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Helping your kids develop heart-healthy habits

The controversy over kids’ cholesterol

As kids’ cholesterol testing becomes routine, the question remains: Should we really be concerned? Not all health experts agree.

Those in the cholesterol-conscious camp cite these facts:

  • Heart disease begins to form in childhood—even though symptoms don’t appear until mid-adulthood.
  • Kids with a family history of high cholesterol (greater than 200 mg/dL) or heart disease (heart attack or angina before age 55) are themselves at greater risk of early-onset heart disease.
  • It’s easier to establish healthy habits in childhood than to change unhealthy ones later in life.

Those against cholesterol screenings cite these facts:

  • Children with high cholesterol levels don’t necessarily grow up to be adults with high cholesterol.
  • Cholesterol fluctuates, so single tests may not be accurate.
  • Smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and sedentary lifestyle also are important risk factors.

Several years ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a study of children whose parents developed heart disease. These kids tended to be overweight, and as they matured, they developed other risk factors as well. By age 26, they had high cholesterol, blood sugar and insulin levels.

The message: If you have a child or grandchild with a family history of heart disease, it’s wise to make heart-healthy behaviors a habit early on. Here are some guidelines.

  • Don’t restrict the dietary fat or cholesterol intake of infants and toddlers up to age 2. They need these nutrients to develop their central nervous systems.
  • Stock up on fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain bagels, rice, pasta and cereals. Serve them without added saturated fats and sugar.
  • Serve fruits and vegetables at every meal and two vegetables with dinner. Wash them, trim them and make them snack friendly.
  • Don’t forbid foods. But make high-fat foods like chips, doughnuts and soda only an occasional part of the diet. The overall quality of the diet matters—not each mouthful.
  • Encourage kids to be active. A military-style approach won’t work with kids. Turn on the radio and dance. Keep a supply of bats, balls, jump ropes and racquets. Encourage lifelong activities such as walking, biking, running and in-line skating.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media