Image for childrens iron supplementsHigh cholesterol is a health problem we often associate with adults, but children can also be affected. High cholesterol levels, along with other factors that put adults at risk for heart problems ( high blood pressure , diabetes, lack of physical activity, being overweight or obese , and smoking), also put children at risk later in life.

For instance, high cholesterol levels play a role in forming fatty plaque build-up in arteries, causing the arteries to harden. This condition, known as atherosclerosis , can start in childhood. If not addressed, it can lead to coronary artery disease in adulthood.

Should My Child Be Screened?

If your child is not overweight, eats a healthy diet, is physically active, and does not have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, chances are he may not need cholesterol screening. However, if high cholesterol levels run in your family or if you are not sure, talk to the doctor to see if your child should be screened.

There are two types of cholesterol often discussed: “good” cholesterol, also known as HDL cholesterol, and “bad” cholesterol, also called LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is the main culprit of heart problems, so keeping levels low is important. For children, this means making sure that their LDL cholesterol level is less than 110 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). Here are cholesterol level guidelines from the American Heart Association and the National Cholesterol Education Program:

LDL Cholesterol Levels in Children and Teens 2-19 Years Old

Acceptableless than 110 mg/dL
Borderline110-129 mg/dL
High130 mg/dL or greater

Total Cholesterol Levels (HDL + LDL Cholesterol) in Children and Teens 2-19 Years Old

Acceptableless than 170 mg/dL
Borderline170-199 mg/dL
High200 mg/dL or greater

Cholesterol Medication

Children older than eight years old who have very high LDL cholesterol levels, usually 190 mg/dL or greater, may be given medicines called statins . Statins work by lowering cholesterol levels in the blood. A doctor may prescribe this medicine to your child if she has been diagnosed with familial hypercholesterolemia (an inherited condition in which a person is born with high levels of LDL cholesterol) and diet and exercise have not lowered the cholesterol levels enough.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

Regardless of your child’s cholesterol levels, a proper diet and exercise are important to keep cholesterol levels under control, as well as maintain overall health. Here are some ways to incorporate a nutritious diet and physical activity into your child’s life:

  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables , and whole grains . Children two years old and older should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Choose lean meats. Lean cuts of meat (beef, pork, lamb) include round, sirloin, tenderloin, and chuck. For poultry, the leanest choice is skinless, white breast meat. Be sure to include fish, beans (peas, dried beans, lentils), and tofu in meals as healthy alternatives to meat.
  • Limit foods that are high in cholesterol .
  • Limit foods that are high in saturated or trans fat .
  • Consume nonfat or low-fat milk and dairy products .
  • When cooking, do not use solid fats. Instead, use vegetable oil. When it comes to buttering bread or corn-on-the-cob, use soft margarine.
  • Avoid foods and drinks with a lot of sugar.
  • Those muffins, donuts, and cupcakes on the grocery store shelf may not be the best snack option for your kids. Opt for healthy snacks, like fresh fruit, vegetables with low-fat dip, popcorn, and low-fat yogurt.
  • Get out and play! Children should get plenty of exercise since this helps boost “good” cholesterol levels. Aim for at least an hour of physical activity a day for children two years old and older.

Children will often look to adults as lifestyle examples. Therefore, to encourage healthy habits, it is important that the entire family is involved in eating right and exercising. Doing so will ensure that both you and your children can lead healthy lives together.