Should children have cholesterol screenings?

While routine screening of children for high cholesterol isn't necessary, you may want to consider it under certain circumstances.

Children should be screened whose parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles have high cholesterol or cardiovascular disease before age 55 for men and 65 for women.

Higher-than-normal blood cholesterol among children does not always predict high levels in adulthood. But for children from high-risk families, check with your doctor and work with a registered dietitian to bring cholesterol levels down.

Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

You should have your child's cholesterol checked because your child could be at risk for development of plaque in the arteries which could lead to early heart disease. If your child is overweight, or you, your spouse, siblings or parents had heart disease at any early age your child could be at risk for heart disease. Medications, diet and physical activity are treatment for high cholesterol.

Dr. Rovenia Brock, PhD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Since science has already taught us that kids with high cholesterol become adults with the same problem (this is almost guaranteed if they're overweight), you must take precautions to protect them against this and other risk factors for heart disease. Besides the cholesterol risk factor, it should also be noted that children with high blood pressure are likely to become adults with high blood pressure if the condition is left unchecked. If your child was born into a family with a history of high cholesterol or heart disease, you should have your child's cholesterol checked as early as age 2.

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In 2011, the National Institutes of Health released guidelines recommending that children be routinely screened for high cholesterol between ages 9 and 11 and again between 17 and 21. The test should then be repeated at least once every five years, more often depending on your risk range. Medicare beneficiaries can now get a free cardiovascular screening test for cholesterol, triglycerides and lipid levels. Ask your healthcare professional about this benefit.

Additionally, children age two or older with a family history of premature heart disease, at least one parent with high blood cholesterol or a condition commonly associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease, such as obesity or hypertension, should have their cholesterol levels tested.

The research continues on the risks and benefits of cholesterol screening for children. Current recommendations are for universal screening of children before and after puberty—that is, between the ages of 9-11 and again between the ages of 17-21. A fasting lipid profile is recommended if the child is cooperative, but a non-fasting HDL-C is an alternative.

Multiple studies have shown that cholesterol elevations seen in early life translate to disease as people age. It is early in life where lifestyle changes can be most effective for changing this outcome.

Children should be screened for cholesterol abnormalities starting at age 9. This particular age seems to be very important in that it may be a time where lifestyle modification can achieve significant payoff for adult disease reduction. Children with significant family histories of coronary or cerebrovascular disease should also be screened at age 2.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.