Before giving your 8-year-old cholesterol drugs, the controversial new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), try some old-fashioned lifestyle changes: Diet and exercise.
It's much easier to give a child a drug than to wean him off Coke and hamburgers and sausages. And it's a tragedy that doctors are seeing children with cholesterol levels on par with a 65-year-old.
But all drugs have potential side effects–especially if you take them for 40 years–and there's a lack of evidence that statins help ward off heart attacks later in life.
Plus, is a drug-centered solution the message the AAP wants to send parents and children? Or should the AAP be helping parents implement lifestyle changes?
The following seven cholesterol reduction tips come from registered and licensed dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, an instuctor at the Chopping Block in Chicago where she teaches "Healthy in a Hurry" cooking classes.
- Exercise! Take a walk or family bike ride to get the kids in gear.
- Read nutrition labels: Choose products with zero trans fats and less than 20 percent daily value for saturated fat.
- Snack healthy: Stray from chips and cookies, and stick to fruit, vegetables, yogurt and popcorn.
- Cut the cheese and red meat: Red meat and cheese are high in cholesterol-raising saturated fat. Try cooking fish, beans, or tofu for heart healthy alternatives. Add nuts and avocados to meals instead of cheese.
- Eliminate soda and sugary drinks: Avoid beverages with excess sugar. Instead drink calorie-free flavored water for hydration.
- Pack with care: Pack a lunch for your child to avoid sugar-filled vending machines and unhealthy cafeteria food.
- Monitor cholesterol levels: Ask your physician to check blood tests for cholesterol levels. Children are at higher risk if a family member suffers from high cholesterol or if they're overweight and should be checked regularly. Recommended cholesterol levels vary among children; however children with levels from 175 to 199 milligrams per deciliter are considered "borderline" candidates and may need to make moderate lifestyle changes. Any child with cholesterol over 200 should consult a physician for possible diet restrictions or drug treatment.