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Should all children be screened for high cholesterol?

July 11, 2010 |  9:01 pm

High cholesterol is common enough in children these days that all of them should be screened for the condition, say the authors of a new study examining the rates of high cholesterol in children.

KidsStatins Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening children and teens who have a family history of premature heart disease or high cholesterol or those children who already have risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity, high blood pressure or who smoke or have diabetes. For these children, screening should start after age 2 and before age 10.

However, a sizable number of people don't have accurate information on family medical history. In the new study, released online Sunday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers reviewed data from more than 20,000 fifth-grade children in West Virginia, including examining their family history and conducting blood cholesterol tests. They found that more than 71% of the children met guidelines for cholesterol screening based on family history. Among children whose family history wasn't known, 9.5% had high cholesterol -- with 1.7% of those children requiring medication to treat the condition.

Screening all children for cholesterol, rather than just those with a family history, will uncover many more cases of the condition that can be treated early to prevent heart disease later in life, the authors said. Statin therapy has been shown to be safe and effective in lowering LDL cholesterol (the bad kind of cholesterol) levels in children.

Moreover, the authors wrote: "...the added and undeniable benefit of identifying and screening parents and other first-degree relatives as a result to finding elevated LDL levels in their children could lead to the prevention of premature cardiac events in adults that may have otherwise gone undiagnosed."

-- Shari Roan

Photo: More than 13 million Americans are taking statins to lower their cholesterol and stave off heart disease. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times