One Fifth of Adolescents Have High Cholesterol. What's Your Take?

Obesity and genetics contribute; diet, exercise, and weight loss can help.

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Government health officials recently reported that 20 percent of American adolescents have abnormal cholesterol levels. What's your reaction?

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This is very alarming. Although some adolescents are genetically predisposed to have high cholesterol levels, most authorities think that environmental causes are to blame. The diet of adolescents often includes more "fast food" than a generation ago, including burgers, pizza, french fries, and soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. Astonishingly, 15 percent of young people are now considered obese, which definitely increases cholesterol levels. Obese children and those with high cholesterol levels face a shortened life span and high risk of developing coronary heart disease at an early age. However, most authorities are reluctant to treat younger teenagers with cholesterol-lowering drugs, so diet, exercise, and weight loss are the most important interventions.

Nonetheless, some children with an inherited disorder known as heterozygous familial hyperlipidemia will require statin drugs to reduce bad cholesterol (LDL-C), because their LDL can be very high (200 or more). There is controversy regarding when to start treatment, but most authorities recommend starting at about age 13. If your teenager is overweight or you have family history of high cholesterol, it may be prudent to have his or her cholesterol checked. If levels are very high, consult an expert in the treatment of cholesterol disorders.

[Statins for Prevention? Taking a Cholesterol-Lowering Drug When Cholesterol Is Normal]

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