An American pilot study screened for high cholesterol in middle-school children as an indicator of hidden heart problems and diabetes.
Obesity is a worldwide problem that is spreading like an epidemic among adults and children of all ethnic backgrounds. High cholesterol in children is directly linked to overweight problems. In addition, high cholesterol in kids is often accompanied by other pointers of lipid disorders and glucose intolerance, collectively causing heart disease and diabetes.
American and international pediatric health organizations strongly recommend screening children in schools for markers of overweight, diabetes, lipid imbalance, and high blood pressure. High cholesterol is one marker for these conditions. High cholesterol may indicate an active or a silent heart, or a metabolic disorder both in normal and obese children. Another important marker is high glucose levels in the blood, which could point to type 2 diabetes.
Despite the recommendations to screen schoolchildren for type 2 diabetes, schools do not perform such screens routinely. This means that high cholesterol in kids, as well as other risk factors, mostly go unnoticed. A recent American study published in the Journal of Pediatrics address this issue.
Dr. Siegel and coworkers from the Cincinnati Children’s Heart Institute in Ohio, United States screened for weight-associated complications, high blood glucose levels, and high cholesterol in kids. They performed a pilot study in 45 children from Norwood Middle School in Ohio. The children were 12 to 14 years old and attended the seventh and eighth grades. Among these children, 71% were Caucasian, 16% were Black, and 9% were Hispanic.
“We were shocked with the diabetes screening results”, Dr. Siegel commented in a recent press release. Thirty-four percent of children had elevated cholesterol or HbA1C blood test results, while 42% were overweight or obese. Notably, two children were diagnosed with diabetes and were further referred to pediatric medical examination and treatment. Another two kids’ cholesterol levels indicated a high risk of heart disease.
Dr. Siegel states that discovering high cholesterol in kids is not a big surprise. He commented, “Most studies show that around 20% of kids will have abnormalities… our message is to get screened, eat right, and get out and play.”
He further supports that routine screening for cholesterol and diabetes should become common practice for preventive measures: “More research is needed to understand why or why not parents want their children screened and whether they prefer it be done at a doctor’s office or at school”.
The study demonstrates that screening for high cholesterol and other heart and diabetes-related risk factors is possible to carry out in school settings. These findings may help improve both parents’ and students’ compliance to perform these screens.
Written by Marina Chemerovski-Glikman, PhD
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Reference: Siegel RM, Strasser K, Faust M, Hudgens M, Robison D, Urbina EM.A Pilot study of school-based comprehensive cardiovascular screeningin middle school children. J Pediatr. 2019.