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Child cholesterol goes down; fewer trans fats cited
Question of the Day
ATLANTA — Finally some good news about cholesterol and children: A big government study shows that in the past decade, the proportion of children who have high cholesterol has fallen.
The results are surprising, given that the childhood obesity rate didn’t budge.
How can that be? Some experts think that while few children may be eating less or exercising more, they may be getting fewer trans fats because the artery-clogging ingredient has been removed or reduced in many processed or fried foods such as doughnuts, cookies and french fries.
“That’s my leading theory,” said Dr. Sarah de Ferranti, director of preventive cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital. She wrote an editorial that accompanies the study.
The research, released online Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association, also showed that children’s average overall cholesterol levels declined slightly.
Too much cholesterol in the blood raises the risk of heart disease. It isn’t usually an immediate threat for most children, but those who have the problem often grow into adults with a high risk.
Dr. Kit and his colleagues drew data from an intensive national study that interviews people and does blood-cholesterol tests. They focused on more than 16,000 children and adolescents over three periods — 1988-94, 1999-2002 and 2007-10.
During the most recent period studied, the number of children ages 6 through 19 with high cholesterol was 1 in 12. That was down from 1 in 9 in each of the earlier periods. The average overall cholesterol level fell from 165 to 160. In children, 200 is considered too high.
The study was the first in almost 20 years to show such a decline. Children’s cholesterol levels also fell between the 1960s and the early 1990s, probably because people were eating less fat and saturated fat. Adult cholesterol levels fell then, too.
The researchers in the latest study detected modest improvements in children’s levels of so-called “good” cholesterol, which can protect the heart. That may be partly as a result of declines in teen smoking and childhood exposure to secondhand smoke over the last decade. Studies have found that chemicals in cigarette smoke can lower good cholesterol.
The bigger news was what happened with bad cholesterol and triglycerides. They went down by small but significant amounts.
In adults, when bad cholesterol levels drop, it’s often because patients are using cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins. But children are rarely given statins.
Artificial trans fats are known to decrease good cholesterol and increase bad cholesterol. In 2006, the federal government began requiring that packaged foods list the amount of trans fat per serving, a boon for careful shoppers.
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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