Screening Children For Cardiovascular Risk

I’m a family doctor. I take care of children. When I think of patients with high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, I think of my ADULT patients, not my kids.

But there’s a good reason for screening children for cardiovascular risk. A new study published in Pediatrics showed up to 40% of children may have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even diabetes.

We’ve known for a long time that kids are having more and more problems with overweight and obesity. Poor food choices (and limited availability of fresh whole plant foods, in many cases), decreasing levels of physical activity and increasing time spent in front of computers both in school and at home have contributed to this trend.

Researchers went to Norwood, Ohio (very close to where I grew up, actually) and studied kids in middle school. With parental permission they checked height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. 42% of the children were overweight or obese, and 34% had blood sugar or cholesterol out of the normal range.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening children for blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol at age 9-11, and again at age 17-21. It is more urgent if children are overweight or obese, or if they have a family history of high cholesterol.

If you have children, make sure to model good habits for them. Don’t tell them to eat their veggies while you are eating pizza and wings. Don’t tell them to exercise while you sit on the couch. Make fitness a family affair by choosing activities all family members can enjoy. Some examples are hiking, cycling, swimming, martial arts, dance, sports, etc.

As your children are growing, ask their doctor whether they need to be screened for heart risk factors. Especially ask about screening if their doctor expresses concern about their weight. Also ask if there is a family history of high cholesterol or early heart attacks. “Early” means before age 55 in men and age 65 in women).

There is an epidemic of overweight and obesity happening in the US and around the world. We must be alert and start screening children for cardiovascular risk factors earlier than we might think.

QUESTION: Do you have kids? Have they had their cholesterol and blood sugar checked?

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