Myth: Kids don't get high cholesterol
Fact: Children can have high cholesterol and the numbers are increasing in step with the number of children who are overweight and obese. The risk factors for high cholesterol in children are the same as those for adults. That is, being overweight or obese, eating too much saturated fat, and having a family history of high cholesterol.
OK, so kids do get high cholesterol – so what? Unfortunately, the longer the body carries too much cholesterol around in the blood, the greater the chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Children who have high cholesterol are more likely to experience these devastating events at an earlier adult age. The first evidence of the damage high cholesterol can cause in youth came from post-mortems of teenage soldiers killed in World War II. Their coronary arteries were already showing the fatty build-up of atherosclerosis. The fact these soldiers were probably on the fitter and slimmer side makes you shudder to think what may be happening in the blood vessels of today’s obese, sedentary kids. Add to this the increasing incidence of type 2 diabetes in children and teenagers and you have a potent recipe for a heart attack in the third or fourth decade.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently announced recommendations to prescribe cholesterol-lowering statin drugs to obese children as young as eight. Oh dear – a classic case of closing the gate after the horse has bolted! Their position has understandably attracted a lot of criticism, the main argument being the problem should be solved by diet and lifestyle change rather than drugs.
Also contained in the AAP recommendations is the more palatable advice that some high-risk toddlers as young as one could switch to reduced fat milk. Traditional advice was only to switch at two years of age so as not to compromise calorie/kilojoule intake for growth. However in the case of a child at high risk of obesity or with a strong family history of cardiovascular disease, reduced fat milk can help manage cholesterol levels with no adverse effects on growth or development. Even if your family is low risk, switching to reduced fat milk when children are two years is recommended. This will help everyone’s cholesterol to stay down, and prevents ‘multi-milk confusion’ in your refrigerator. As many household nutrition managers and grocery buyers (Mums and Dads) will attest, the family will eat/drink what’s there.
Whether a child already has high cholesterol, or to prevent the problem in the first place, kids need to ‘eat to beat cholesterol’ as much as grown ups to keep their hearts healthy. The evidence is convincing that diet works without side effects and nourishes the whole family as well.
For heart-friendly recipes the whole family will love, try Heart Food by Veronica Cuskelly and Nicole Senior available from www.greatideas.net.au
For more information on cholesterol and what you can do about reducing high cholesterol in adults and kids, check out Eat to Beat Cholesterol by Nicole Senior and Veronica Cuskelly: www.eattobeatcholesterol.com.au