NPR logo Few Youths Need Cholesterol Drugs, Study Finds


Few Youths Need Cholesterol Drugs, Study Finds

The new research found that fewer youths qualified for cholesterol-lowering drugs than had been estimated previously. hide caption

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Far fewer children may need cholesterol-lowering drugs than had been predicted just last year, a new study suggests.

In July, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines for screening children at risk of high cholesterol and heart disease, and it said that some of these children should be prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs. That recommendation set off controversy. Some parents and pediatricians worried that new screenings would lead to millions of children being prescribed statin drugs, which, though commonly used by adults, have been little-tested in children.

In the new study, researchers looked at cholesterol levels in more than 2,700 youths ages 12 to 17. They found that less than 1 percent of them would meet the AAP guidelines for drug treatment. The data were drawn from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2006 and analyzed by the U.S. Public Health Service. The new findings were published in the current issue of Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.

When the AAP issued its guidelines last summer, it recommended cholesterol tests for teens and children as young as age 2 who are obese or who have a family history of early heart disease or high blood pressure. The guidelines said cholesterol-fighting statin drugs could be prescribed for children as young as 8 who were found to have very high cholesterol levels.

Some parents and pediatricians feared that doctors would too quickly turn to medications, given the high rate of obesity among American children. The guidelines also stressed the importance of changing diet and getting more exercise.