1 in 5 children and teens has unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Nearly one out of every three American adults has high cholesterol. This “bad” cholesterol causes unhealthy fatty buildup and narrows the arteries resulting in atherosclerosis. Having high cholesterol puts someone at a major risk for developing heart disease.

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Why We Need to Pay Attention to Cholesterol Levels Earlier

“The evidence is overwhelming,” says Scott Grundy, MD, AHA’s guideline writing committee chairman and UT Southwestern Medical Center professor. “Essentially no one says cholesterol is not important. The whole world now understands — it’s important.”

High cholesterol is dangerous. That’s why AHA guidelines suggest that doctors consider selective screenings for children as young as 2 years old. Especially for those who have a family history of high cholesterol and/or early heart disease. If children don’t have these high risk factors, the guidelines recommend testing between 9 and 11 and then again between 17 and 21 years of age.

“Many children with high cholesterol problems are also battling weight problems, says Joesph Mahgerefteh, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital, where he directs the Heart Healthy Clinic, a program for children with unhealthy cholesterol levels.

It’s important that we are raising children at a young age to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle. Incorporating a healthy diet, promoting regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, as well as not smoking cigarettes should be part of this plan. This lifestyle will not only benefit their heart as they grow up, but encourage optimal health. One of the best things parents can do is to be positive role models for their children in how they personally take care of their health.