Newswise — Joel Hardin, MD, director of pediatric cardiology at Loyola University Health System, is willing to comment on the merits and controversy surrounding a recent recommendation for universal cholesterol testing during childhood. Late last year an expert panel of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute put forth a recommendation that all children be screened for high cholesterol when they are 9 to 11 years old. The expert panel also recommended screening even younger children if they have a personal or family history of other cardiovascular disease risk factors. These recommendations, although endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, have stirred debate among pediatricians about the wisdom of this approach to cardiovascular disease prevention during childhood.

The guidelines are promoted as a means to identify children at high risk for the No. 1 cause of cardiovascular disease - atherosclerosis - a condition that may lead to heart attacks and strokes during adulthood. It is estimated that around 10 percent of US children have unhealthy cholesterol levels, and that one-third of US children are also overweight or obese - further compounding health risks. Those opposed to the new guidelines say they are too aggressive, and are concerned that they could be misunderstood or lead to unnecessary drug therapy for children with relatively minor blood cholesterol elevations.

Hardin’s position is similar to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Screening is important, and especially so for a small minority of children who may not know they possess a very dangerous condition called familial hypercholesterolemia wherein cholesterol levels are twice the normal range or higher. This condition places adult males at risk for heart attack in their 30’s and females in their 40’s. What’s more, familial hypercholesterolemia is very treatable. If screening detects an abnormal cholesterol result, there is no one size fits all care plan, but rather a carefully crafted personalized care plan for that particular child,” said Hardin.

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