Canadian researchers are beginning to realize that childhood cholesterol levels are an indication for future cardiovascular disease risk and could be hence used as an invaluable tool to prevent them.
Says lead author Ian Janssen, assistant professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queens University in Ontario, who conducted a study into the subject: "There is growing scientific evidence indicating that cholesterol levels in childhood and adolescence have an effect on the development of plaque in the arteries, which is a clear indication of cardiovascular disease risk".
According to the latest U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) figures, 17 percent of U.S. teens are overweight. In addition, just one in four high school students have enough physical activity into their day, and 12 percent get little or no daily exercise.
Adds Janssen: " There is also strong evidence indicating that children and youth with high cholesterol will continue to have high cholesterol in adulthood. Thus, it is important to start treatment and prevention efforts early."
Using data from the NHANES on more than 6,000 kids aged 12 to 20, Janssen and his colleagues developed age- and gender-specific reference points for total cholesterol, LDL ("bad") cholesterol, HDL ("good) cholesterol and triglyceride fat levels.
This new reference data is meant to improve upon current guidelines, published by the U.S. National Cholesterol Education Program, which incidentally, do not account for age-related fluctuations.
Still, notes Janssen, these guidelines have not yet been routinely adapted into clinical care settings in the United States. "These sorts of changes to clinical practice typically take years to manifest," he says.
Currently, the federal government recommends cholesterol screening for children and teens with at least one parent with high cholesterol or a family history of early heart disease.
"Typically high-risk adolescents should be screened, and probably every year or two," opines Janssen. "A high-risk adolescent would be one who's had a parent or grandparent with premature cardiovascular disease or high cholesterol, or a teen with other risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure", he stresses.
Other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or smoking, which cover a lot of kids, now, also would trigger cholesterol testing in doctors' offices according to various experts.