High cholesterol is not just confined to adults, for children can have it too even if they are not overweight, says a new study.
Experts at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia have recommended that kids should have a complete cholesterol profile done if they have a family history of high cholesterol or early heart disease.
Those who do not have a family history but have other risk factors for early heart disease, such as overweight, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, poor diet, and sedentary lifestyle should also be screened.
"Although the most common reasons for high cholesterol are poor diet, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise, some apparently healthy children inherit high cholesterol levels from their parents," said Julie Brothers, M.D., medical director of the Lipid Heart Clinic at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"Overall, we've noticed an increase in children's cholesterol levels the past several years and this is a disturbing trend," she added.
Children with a family history of high cholesterol or early heart disease, even if they have normal weight, should be routinely screened, as they may have a genetic predisposition for excess cholesterol levels, familial hypercholesterolemia (FH).
These children have high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also called "bad cholesterol," beginning at birth, which can lead to early thickening of the artery walls, premature cardiovascular disease and an increased risk of early heart attack.
Familial hypercholesterolemia is underestimated in the community and in paediatric primary care practices. Children with FH have no symptoms or signs of their condition and often do not fit the profile of someone who is at risk; they usually have a normal weight and a healthy lifestyle and diet.
However, in addition to a family history of high cholesterol, they usually have a family history of early heart disease. Children with a parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt, or uncle with high cholesterol or who has suffered a cardiac event before the age of 55 should be routinely monitored.
Children who are overweight or obese should also have their cholesterol levels routinely screened by paediatric healthcare professionals, as this also places them at increased risk of developing early heart disease.
"Cholesterol levels in children who are obese usually respond well to diet and lifestyle modifications, whereas children with FH often need medications in addition to diet and exercise," said Brothers.
Modifications to diet and increased physical activity are the first-line treatments for children identified with raised cholesterol levels. Another option is putting a child on statin therapy, which is a lifetime commitment.