Cholesterol is a substance produced by the liver that aids in forming cell membranes and some hormones. Our body naturally produces enough to function well, but we also ingest additional forms of cholesterol from foods we eat. There are two different types.
LDL (low-density lipoproteins) is the “bad” cholesterol — too much can accumulate in our artery walls, forming plaque that can cause our vessels to become narrow and stiff.
HDL (high-density lipoproteins) is the “good” cholesterol — carrying cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it can be processed and removed.
WHAT AFFECTS MY CHOLESTEROL LEVELS?
Diet — particularly a fatty diet — is a major factor when it comes to cholesterol. Lack of exercise along with poor diets can lead to obesity that can cause elevated cholesterol. Genetics also play a big role; if there’s a strong family history, this can also affect our cholesterol levels.
WHY DO I HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT HIGH CHOLESTEROL?
High cholesterol can lead to stroke and heart disease. Research shows that it can be linked to childhood, particularly children with the risk factors mentioned above. By identifying problems with cholesterol at an early age, changes can be made to prevent future health problems.
WHO IS RECOMMENDED FOR SCREENING?
At Kids Plus, we decided whether to screen for cholesterol starting at age 7, based on whether children have any of the following factors:
- Body Mass Index > 85%
- Family history of early heart disease, cholesterol, or death before age 55 in men and 65 in women
- Any unknown family history
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
WHAT HAPPENS WITH MY CHOLESTEROL RESULTS?
Normal levels should be repeated in 5 years. Abnormal levels are interpreted by the provider. Your child may be referred to a specialist in cardiology, specifically the lipid clinic. If levels are slightly elevated, dietary changes and physical activity may be tried first, with close follow up.
WHAT CAN I DO TO LOWER MY CHOLESTEROL?
The following recommendations come from the excellent KidsHealth web site:
- Know your own cholesterol level — and if it’s high, ask to have your kids’ levels checked.
- Serve a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Choose from a variety of protein foods, including lean meats and poultry, fish, nuts, beans, peas, and soy products.
- Read Nutrition Facts labels so you can limit cholesterol and saturated and trans fat intake. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend keeping dietary fat intake between 30%-40% for kids 1-3 years old and between 25%-35% for kids 4-18 years old, with most fats coming from sources of unsaturated fats (such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils).
WHAT CAN I DO FOR MY CHILDREN?
For kids over two years of age:
- Limit cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams a day
- Keep saturated fats to less than 10% of calories
- Avoid trans fats as much as possible
- Choose non-fat or low-fat milk and dairy products
- Stay away from solid fats; use vegetable oils and trans-fat-free margarine
- Limit beverages and foods with added sugars
- Limit commercially prepared baked goods
- Serve healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, vegetables with low-fat dip, light popcorn, and low-fat yogurt
- Encourage plenty of exercise
Exercise helps boost HDL levels in the blood — and that’s a good thing! Kids and teens should be physically active at least 60 minutes a day.
It’s a great idea to make living healthier a family affair. Kids usually aren’t the only ones at risk, so it’s important to make this a family effort. The steps you take to improve your family’s lifestyle can have a positive effect on your family’s health not only now, but far into the future.
Alyssa Papa, a certified Physician Assistant, joined Kids Plus in June 2012.