Most adults know they should get their cholesterol checked, and many people know their “numbers.” But should children be screened for cholesterol? Amy Peterson, MD, MS, associate professor, Division of Cardiology, who founded and directs UW Health’s Pediatric Preventive Cardiology Clinic, thinks they should. She wants parents to know that high cholesterol has been recognized as a significant pediatric health issue since 2011, and there is an important reason to screen children early.
Peterson’s focus is preventative cardiology, and she is particularly concerned about a disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia, or FH. FH is a genetic trait, not caused by diet. The disorder manifests as excessive low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and people with FH have a six to 20 times greater chance of developing premature cardiovascular disease, or CVD. People with FH can show signs of cardiovascular disease by age 20. Early identification of FH in childhood allows for early treatment and delay of early atherosclerosis. Peterson believes that early universal cholesterol screening may be the only way to identify most FH in children; screening can also identify it as a family trait that warrants attention.
Peterson explained why early pediatric cholesterol screening is important in a UW Health news release, “Kids can have high cholesterol.” While most people who take cholesterol medication are adults, an increasing number of children are diagnosed with high cholesterol. Learning the problem early makes it easier to change lifestyle than waiting decades until one’s 40s or 50s. Early screening is needed to identify these children. About 2,500 pediatric patients have been seen in the Pediatric Preventive Cardiology Clinic since it began. Three out of four of those patients would never have been identified without a screening; the remaining were seen because there was a family history of heart disease or stroke.
But beyond cholesterol disorders caused by an unhealthy diet and a lack of exercise, the condition familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is genetic. About one in 250 children are born with FH and have high cholesterol when they are born. A genetic mutation prevents the body from removing “bad cholesterol” — low-density lipoprotein. Peterson encourages parents to have their children screened for FH as early as age 2 if the family has a history of heart disease.
“FH is passed on through families, so once it is found in a child, it’s also important for family members to get screened,” Peterson said. “Estimates show that only about 10% to 20% of those with FH even know they have it because of low awareness among the public and even some physicians. Nobody wants to have FH, but thankfully the sooner we find out someone has it, the better our chances of reducing risk of serious problems later in life, thanks to a combination of cholesterol medication, smart eating, and regular exercise.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend that all children be screened for cholesterol between the ages of 9 and 11, and again between 17 and 21. Peterson completed a research study in 2021 that showed that pediatric specialists do not consistently screen their pediatric patients for high cholesterol. On a per-clinician basis, most pediatricians had an order placement rate (OPR) for cholesterol screening of over 80%, while most family physicians had OPRs between 40% and 60%. Peterson’s research team’s completed project, including a clinicians’ survey and statistical analyses of 10 years of pediatric cholesterol screening order data, resulted in two journal publications in 2021.
With this variation among clinicians in mind, Peterson encourages parents to request cholesterol screening for their children if their pediatrician does not order it. It’s important to find the incidence of FH, and useful to have a cholesterol baseline for children early.
Selected media coverage
UW Health’s press release was picked up by many media sources around the state and beyond, and Peterson appeared on TV stations in Madison, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Rhinelander, and Milwaukee.
UW Health sees uptick in kids with high cholesterol
Associate Professor of Pediatrics Amy Peterson said while some kids inherit a genetic condition that causes high cholesterol, others develop it, and there are engaging ways to address the high numbers.
UW Health Kids sees rise in kids with high cholesterol, recommends preventative screenings
Dr. Amy Peterson, the director at UW Health Kids Pediatric Preventative Cardiology Clinic, says a simple cholesterol screening can help stave off heart disease or even death.
How to tell if your child has high cholesterol and what can be done
“If kids with high cholesterol get medical care early, they have a great chance of lowering their risk for heart disease before they grow into adulthood,” UW Health cardiologist and director of the UW Health Kids Pediatric Preventive Cardiology Clinic Dr. Amy Peterson said.
UW Health: Kids have high cholesterol more often than one might think
High cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease and while adults make up an overwhelming majority of patients who take cholesterol medication, there is an increasing number of children being diagnosed with high cholesterol, according to Dr. Amy Peterson, cardiologist, UW Health Kids, and director, UW Health Kids Pediatric Preventive Cardiology Clinic.
UW Health: More kids are being diagnosed with high cholesterol
High cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease, and while adults make up an overwhelming majority of patients who take cholesterol medication, there is an increasing number of children being diagnosed with it according to Dr. Amy Peterson, a cardiologist at UW Health.
High cholesterol levels becoming more common in children
“By finding this in the child, what we can do is offer testing to family members so that other family members can find out they have this condition and get the appropriate treatment,” said UW Health Kids Cardiologist Dr. Amy Peterson.
UW Health sees uptick in kids with high cholesterol
Although high cholesterol is something that many people associate with older adults, UW Health said high numbers are impacting kids as well.
Newswatch 12 Morning News
Wisconsin health experts are seeing a rising number of children with high cholesterol. According to UW Health Kids [Dr. Amy Peterson], high cholesterol in kids can be genetic and it can increase the risk of heart disease.
CBS 58 Morning News 5am
Experts at UW Health say a way to reduce it — is to get a simple screening. “It’s really important to just get the child’s cholesterol level checked, because children with high cholesterol don’t have any symptoms.