At a family gathering, my cousin approached me about her daughter’s recent visit to the pediatrician. She was a bit surprised her pediatrician was recommending her healthy, active 10-year-old have her cholesterol checked. This sparked a very interesting debate among my family members about health guidance recommendations, most arguments beginning with phrases like, “back in the day…” or “my kids never had to ….”
Fortunately, though, with time comes knowledge. We have come to recognize that some of the most common adult health problems — diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol — have their roots in childhood habits. And there also are those unfortunate families who have inherited forms of these illnesses. Catching high cholesterol earlier in a child’s life may encourage a family to make some lifestyle modifications that could prevent the child from going on cholesterol-lowering medications at an early age.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children be initially screened between 9 and 11 years of age and again between 17 and 21 years. If there is a family history of diabetes or heart disease, or if the child has other health problems, he or she should be screened even sooner. The screening test is a blood test, and some offices can even give results at the time of the child’s visit. If the screening test is abnormal, further testing may be recommended.
With this new and dramatic change in recommendations, there has been some skepticism, and not just at my family’s barbecue. Some physicians feel these guidelines are a bit strict, and there is debate in the pediatric community still as to how and when to do these screenings.
When you see your pediatrician for your child’s next check-up, make sure to ask him or her if your child should be checked for high cholesterol. My cousin did have her daughter checked, and she was fine, but the only way to know for certain is to have the test. In pediatrics, we are in the business of prevention. By doing early screening and detection of a potential problem, we may be able to save your child a lot of visits to the doctor as an adult.
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