Cholesterol and children

ON CALL

June 29, 1993|By Dr. Simeon Margolis | Dr. Simeon Margolis,Contributing Writer

Q: I am taking medication for high cholesterol and wonder whether my 7-year-old son should have his cholesterol checked.

A: Many pediatricians include a measurement of cholesterol as one of their standard blood tests. If the pediatrician hasn't already done so, have your son's cholesterol checked in the near future. There is about a 50 percent chance that your son also has high cholesterol, which can be inherited by half the offspring of an affected father or mother.

You should be aware that the cholesterol value is considered abnormal at lower levels in children than in adults. While a cholesterol below 200 is desirable in an adult, the Expert Panel on Blood Cholesterol Levels in Children and Adolescents says that a cholesterol level less than 170 is desirable for children and teens.

High cholesterol levels increase the risk for premature thickening and narrowing of large arteries. Although the consequences of atherosclerosis usually do not begin before middle age, the accumulation of cholesterol in arteries begins in childhood.

You will be relieved if your son's cholesterol is in the desirable range, and able to take some positive steps if the level is more than 170. You should be sure he eats a cholesterol-lowering diet. You are probably already following a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol to reduce your own cholesterol, but your son and other family members may not be on the same diet.

Diets to lower cholesterol in children 2 years of age and older are similar to those employed in adults. The strategy is to foster good dietary habits that can be maintained in adult years, without creating excessive worry and overzealous avoidance of all fats.

Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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