Cholesterol Ain't Kids Stuff

by DavalosMcCormack on July 8, 2008

You may have seen the news about new guidelines recommending wider cholesterol screening for children, and more aggressive use of cholesterol-lowering medications for children with very high levels of cholesterol.

Brace yourself for a rant.

I know that doctors are just being cautious. That they’re trying to prevent children who are overweight, obese or who have high levels of cholesterol (particularly LDL, the so-called ‘bad cholesterol) from going on to develop heart disease. But surely giving children as young as eight a drug they may have to take for the rest of their life is not the answer.

First, there is not a lot of data to show that these drugs are even safe for children. They may be, but we don’t really know because we haven’t tried them out in numbers large enough to tell us.

Secondly, we certainly don’t know that these drugs are safe for long-term use in children. Remember at age 8 children are still developing. Their brains and bodies are growing and will continue to do so for many more years. Who knows what kind of impact long-term use of these drugs will have on kids if given to them at such a crucial point in their development.

But even if they do prove to be safe one has to ask is this really the way we want to go? Have we so completely given up on trying to get overweight or obese kids back to a healthy weight by means other than untested medications?

Do parents really have no ability to make the changes that could help their kids lose some weight, or at the very least bring their cholesterol down to a healthier level? Have parents so completely given up on their kids that they are happy to say, “drink your super slurpy, have another slice of cheese pizza, play your video games, oh, and did you take your statin today?”

Do pediatricians have no other answers than to say, “oh heck, I give up, take this pill.”

Now the guidelines, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, call for cholesterol screenings of children who come from families with a history of high cholesterol or heart attacks before age 55 for men and 65 for women. These tests could start as early as two but no later than 10 years of age.

Knowing a child’s cholesterol level can be tremendously important, especially if they come from a family with a history of heart disease. But where is the evidence that medicating them at such an early age will help?

Too often it seems the response to a medical problem is to offer a medical solution. That might seem logical but what about exploring other solutions first. When a person is put on a medication they frequently take that as a sign their problem is under control, so they do little or nothing to try and reduce it still further.

By using medications to lower children’s cholesterol you effectively relieve the parents of any responsibility for taking the steps they should be taking anyway, through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, to get their kids to lead healthier lives.

Now in some cases it may not be possible to bring seriously high cholesterol under control with lifestyle changes alone. But the number of children who have abnormally high cholesterol because of hereditary factors is relatively small. What these guidelines do is give parents permission to ask physicians for the drug sooner rather than later. It puts physicians in a difficult position because they will be reluctant to say no to pushy parents when their own Academy says this is an approved method of treatment.

We’ve seen it happen so many times. When people have the option of lifestyle changes or medications, they usually take the easier route.

And we’ve also seen that too often doctors give in to parents when they are pressed to give medications to kids, even when they know it’s not necessarily going to help the kid – such as antibiotics to treat a cold or ear infection.

These guidelines are just one more way that people can take the easy way out. And in the end that lets parents off the hook and does nothing to improve the health of kids.

Oh my god. I just read this again and I’m channeling Bill O’Reilly!!! Aaarrrgghhhhh

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