MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
NPR's Patti Neighmond reports on the controversy over when and why to test children for high cholesterol.
PATTI NEIGHMOND: Dr. Reginald Washington is a pediatric cardiologist with the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver. He says the sooner the better when it comes to testing for cholesterol. If kids are tested and diagnosed as early as age 10, then treatment, says Washington, can save lives and health care costs down the road by helping prevent hardening of the arteries.
REGINALD WASHINGTON: So it makes sense if you can prevent that buildup from starting in the first place, that coronary artery is going to be normal as you get older.
NEIGHMOND: He analyzed cholesterol tests for more than 20,000 fifth graders. His findings were somewhat surprising. If only kids with family histories had been tested, Neal says they would have missed a lot of kids.
WILLIAM NEAL: We would have missed 548 children who had abnormal cholesterol levels. And of those 548, 98 would have had severe elevation of cholesterol, requiring medication.
NEIGHMOND: Medication like adults take to lower their cholesterol. While studies have shown these cholesterol-lowering drugs are effective for adults and mostly safe with relatively rare side effects, there have been no studies showing the drugs' safety and effectiveness in children over the long term, which is why the first line of defense against high cholesterol, says Neal, is a healthy lifestyle.
NEAL: Low-saturated-fat diet, at least one hour of exercise most days of the week for children.
NEIGHMOND: Pediatrician Matthew Gillman specializes in childhood obesity at Harvard Medical School.
MATTHEW GILLMAN: When kids get tested for cholesterol, they get follow-up tests, and they get recommendations. And these things may cause some side effects, and they cost something. And so we have to think about not only the benefits but also the costs and the risks throughout a whole lifetime when we test kids in childhood.
NEIGHMOND: Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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