Cholesterol and Children

Should you be concerned about your child's cholesterol level? A total cholesterol of 170 or less is the acceptable level for children and teens. A build up of cholesterol and fat on arterial walls can increase the risk of heart attack. Consuming a diet high in fat contributes to heart disease as well as obesity and some cancers.

The National Cholesterol Education program recommends that all adults 20 years and older have their cholesterol checked. Your child's pediatrician can advise you if your child's cholesterol should be tested. This most accurately done with a fasting blood test (nothing to eat or drink for at least 8 hours prior to the blood draw except water).

Some general guidelines for screening cholesterol level in children are as follows:

  • A parent or grandparent with documented coronary atherosclerosis at age 55 or younger
  • A parent or grandparent with a documented coronary event (heart attack, stroke, angina)
  • Family history unavailable
  • Parent with a documented high cholesterol level

So what's a parent to do?

If your child has an elevated cholesterol level, there are lifestyle changes you can initiate. First, limit the intake of dietary cholesterol in your child's diet. Remember, only foods that originate from animal sources contain cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol is measured in milligrams; an intake of 300 milligrams or less is the daily recommendation.

Cutting back on fat, especially saturated fat, has an even greater effect on controlling serum (blood) cholesterol. Fat is measured in grams; the amount of fat your child should consume daily depends upon their caloric needs. Generally speaking, no more than 30% of their calories should come from fat. So, a child who consumes 1800 calories daily should have no more than 540 calories from fat. To convert this to grams of at, just divide by 9, because fat provides 9 calories per gram.

Daily Recommendations

Caloric Intake Grams

1500
1800
2100
2400

Grams of Fat

50
60
70
80

Milligrams of Cholesterol

300
300
300
300

Small changes in the day-to-day diet can greatly reduce the intake of both dietary fat and cholesterol. For example, switching from whole milk to 1% milk can result in a savings of 77 grams of fat and 252 milligrams of cholesterol per week for a person who drinks 16 ounces of milk each day!

Regular aerobic exercise is also important in reducing cholesterol levels and preventing obesity. Have your children play ball games not just watch them. Limit TV, video games, and computer time. If your child smokes, do everything you can to get him/her to quit! The most addicted smokers are who began smoking as teens. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day are twice as likely to have heart attacks as non-smokers.

Another way to try to reduce serum cholesterol is to increase foods rich in dietary fiber. Fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains are great additions to the diet as part of meals or snacks. For cholesterol levels that do not respond to diet and exercise interventions, there are medications that can lower overall cholesterol levels. These, however, are not routinely used with children and teens. For more information on Cholesterol please contact your primary care provider.