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Kids and Cholesterol: December 8, 2011

Mary Gutierrez is the mother of two busy boys. It doesn’t take much to get them moving. Her challenge is to slow them down.

“We’re outside all the time so staying active is definitely a big part of our lives.”

Not all kids are as on the go as her sons. Nationally inactivity and weight gain are adding up to a hefty problem.

“Childhood obesity is a growing problem. We’re looking at somewhere around 30% of our pediatric population, that’s children under 17, are described as overweight or obese,” says Dr. Nancy Witham, a pediatrician with Lee Memorial Health System.

And with it, comes all sorts of typically grown up disease.

“We’ve seen an increase of variety of complaints. Pretty much anything you’ve been seeing in the adult population we’ve been seeing down into the pediatric population,” says Dr. Witham.

That includes cardiovascular disease. New health guidelines recommend testing kids’ cholesterol level at least once between the ages of 9 and 11 to get a read on their heart health.

“We’d rather start with a younger child who hasn’t reached the point that they’re really overweight and start to test for those things. Counseling those things that are starting to crop up. Hit them at lower weights; just a little bit of an elevated blood pressure; just a little bit of sugar out of line; that would be the ideal thing,” says Dr. Witham.

The old approach was to test only high-risk children, who were morbidly obese or had a family history. But that targeted screening missed more than 50% of children with high cholesterol.

“You can’t tell to look at somebody, so a ‘Skinny Minnie’ might have elevated blood cholesterol or high blood pressure. Sadly if the diet is poor, that doesn’t mean that a slender child is going to necessarily escape the issues,” says Dr. Witham.

With all she has to keep track of, Mary didn’t expect cholesterol to be one of them.
“In a way I guess it’s kind of surprising but then when you see a lot of kids and their lifestyles nowadays, maybe not so much.”

An elevated level, defined as a score over 200, should move parents to take action.