Over the last 22 years, the percentage of excessive cholesterol levels in children has dropped significantly, according to a new study performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study found that just 1 out of every 12 kids and teens suffer from above-normal cholesterol. The news indicates that many young people are making healthier dietary decisions, or that their parents are making healthier food choices for them.
Instilling habits that prevent high cholesterol in children might eventually reduce the statistics regarding the number of American adults that suffer from the condition. A disturbingly high percentage – 33.5 percent to be exact – lives with high LDL. Even worse, people with high cholesterol have twice as much risk when it comes to getting heart disease.
Major Improvement in Cholesterol Levels in Children Overall
In order to conduct their study, CDC researchers examined total cholesterol, triglyceride, HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels for over 16,000 teens and younger children. They determined that the percentage of young people with excessive levels of total cholesterol has dropped to 8.1% as of 2010. This figure stood at 11.3% in 1988. The percentage of young people with a minimum of one abnormal cholesterol measurement also dropped significantly, from 27.2% in 1988 to 22.2% in 2010.
The CDC’s Brian Kit, who served as the lead author of the study, said that the news is promising for the health care community. However, he said that the fact that nearly 10% of children and teens still have high total cholesterol leaves plenty of room for improvement.
Statistics for Child and Teen Cholesterol Levels
The CDC researchers behind the study gathered their data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, and focused on three different time periods including 1988 to 1994, 1999 to 2002 and 2007 to 2010. During each time span, the researchers examined 5,000 to 7,000 children and teens ranging in age from 6 to 19 in order to gauge their cholesterol levels.
Overall, the researchers discovered that average total cholesterol levels for children and teens have dropped from 165 mg/dL to 160 mg/dL. Meanwhile, HDL (good) cholesterol levels rose from 50.5 mg/dL to 52.2 mg/dL, on average. Adolescents also experienced a decline in LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, going from an average of 95 mg/dL to just 90 mg/dL.
Normal cholesterol levels for children are defined as such:
Total cholesterol: under 200 mg/dL
HDL cholesterol: over 40 mg/dL
LDL cholesterol: under 130 mg/dL
The Factors that Affect Cholesterol Levels
A number of factors influence cholesterol levels, including both genetics and lifestyle factors such as secondhand smoke exposure, exercise frequency and intensity and diet. During the course of the study, secondhand smoke exposure and trans fat consumption both declined in America. Unfortunately, adolescent and childhood obesity rates also increased during this same time span.
According to Brian Kit, the primary message that kids and their parents should take away from the study is that being overweight does not necessitate high cholesterol, just as individuals with high cholesterol could maintain a normal, healthy weight.
Cholesterol Screenings for Kids and Teens are Controversial
Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all individuals receive two cholesterol screenings during childhood and adolescence: one between the ages of 9 and 11, and another between the ages of 17 and 21. However, some have argued that conducting so many cholesterol screenings would be prohibitively expensive. Those in opposition to such frequent screenings also say that most children with high cholesterol would simply be told to exercise more often and make healthier dietary decisions, which children are frequently encouraged to do by physicians regardless of their cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol Levels in Children: The Bottom Line
A new CDC study indicates that average cholesterol levels are dropping among teens and children. The researchers behind the study noted that obesity levels have actually risen over the same time period, from 1988 through 2010, indicating that high cholesterol and obesity can often occur separately.
The full text of the study can be found online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.