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Only half of U.S. adolescents have ideal cholesterol levels

Despite the overall improvement of cholesterol levels in U.S. teens and children from 1999 to 2016, a new study has found that only half of U.S. adolescents have ideal cholesterol levels and 25% of U.S. adolescents have cholesterol levels in the clinically high range.

The research was led by Amanda Marma Perak, MD MS, cardiologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and published in JAMA.

“High cholesterol in childhood is one of the key risk factors for developing heart disease later in life,” said Dr. Marma Perak, who is also an Assistant Professor of Pediatric Cardiology and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Although we see favorable trends in all measures of cholesterol in children and adolescents over the years, we still need to work harder to ensure that many more kids have healthy cholesterol levels.”

“We know that high cholesterol is the critical initiator of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries, and even in childhood it is associated with these changes in the blood vessels that can lead to heart attack in adulthood,” she continued.

Teens and children should exhibit total cholesterol (TC) at less than 170 mg/dL, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol at less than 110 mg/dL, and HDL (“good”) cholesterol at greater than 45 mg/dL. All teens and children should have their cholesterol levels checked at between ages 9 and 11, and then again between ages 17 and 21.

“If a child is found to have borderline-high or high levels of cholesterol, we can usually improve those levels through lifestyle changes, such as healthier diet and increased physical activity,” Dr. Marma Perak said. “Children are rarely placed on cholesterol-lowering medications like statins.”

As stated, the overall positive uptick in adolescent cholesterol levels within the U.S. from those of 1999 is relieving. However, the childhood obesity trend still surges on in the states. Childhood obesity is one of the main causes of poor cholesterol levels. Dr. Marma Perak said that more research must be done to better understand the recent teen and children cholesterol level statistics.

“Some factors that influence cholesterol may be improving, such as decreased trans fats in the food supply,” she said. “Although more efforts are needed, the fact that cholesterol levels are moving in the right direction warrants some optimism about the future cardiovascular health of our population since cholesterol is such an important driver of cardiovascular disease.”

By Olivia Harvey, Staff Writer

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