1 in 5 American Kids Has Abnormal Levels of Cholesterol

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About one American child or adolescent out of every five has at least one abnormal cholesterol measurement, including high cholesterol levels or low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, new federal data shows.

A new report released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) looked at the prevalence of high total cholesterol, low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and high non-HDL cholesterol among kids and adolescents between the ages of 6 to 19. They found that low HDL cholesterol was the most common abnormality and that overall, cholesterol deviances were more common among adolescents than children.

MORE: Obese Kids As Young As 8 May Have Heart Problems

Among the kids and adolescents, 7.4% had high total cholesterol. The researchers also found that youth with obesity were most likely to have problems related to their cholesterol levels. While the numbers may seem unexpected, the NCHS says all three measurements have declined among kids over time.

Cholesterol measurements are used as an indicator of heart disease, and since cholesterol abnormalities in childhood can sometimes continue into adulthood, public health groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend monitoring cholesterol in kids.

“Hypertension is an epidemic that is reaching younger and younger populations,” says Dr. Maan Fares, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic (who was not involved in the study). “[The findings] come as a relative surprise, but it’s not entirely surprising. It’s beyond what I would have expected but not much worse. My speculation is that obesity and lifestyle for the most part are playing a role in this.”

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