Doctors caution about cholesterol testing for kids

December 20, 2011 8:21:07 PM PST
A government-sponsored panel recently recommended children be regularly tested for cholesterol, but physicians are also cautioning that some common cholesterol treatments may not be appropriate for young children.

Heart disease runs on both sides of 13-year-old Ellie Bonaie's family, so she's getting her cholesterol checked. It seems unusual because she's so young, but cholesterol testing in children could soon become routine.

"They're recommending now that all children around nine to 10 years of age be checked for cholesterol," said Dr. Steve Mittleman. "And again, around 17 years of age."

The panel was funded by an arm of the National Institutes of Health. It pointed to studies showing that triggers for adult heart disease, such as obesity, often begin in childhood.

The goal is to accurately identify kids at high risk.

"If you have objective evidence that your child is at risk for heart disease, you'd be more likely to encourage healthier activity and diet," Mittleman said.

Still, Mittleman says barely 1 percent of children -- primarily those with genetically high cholesterol -- would qualify for cholesterol-lowering medications like statins.

Mittleman also believes the cost-effectiveness of testing has yet to be proven.

"I think we'll have to be cautious," said Mittleman. "I think we'll be getting a lot of blood tests and that's going to cost a lot of money, and it remains to be seen how many kids we're going to be able to help at this point."

Ellie's test reveals she's going to make some lifestyle changes, but she's glad she's being told early.

"I'm going to take in more physical activities, like sports, and control my diet," she said.

The guidelines also recommend yearly blood pressure measurements for children starting at age 3, along with a review of each infant's family history as it relates to obesity.

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