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The Dangerous New Trend: Prescribing Statins to Children

Can you imagine giving your child what is normally considered an “adult” medication even though they don’t need it? Sounds a bit like drug abuse, doesn’t it? Well, it may be happening more and more, and at the advice of doctors around the country. Cholesterol-lowering drugs – or statins - are being recommended for children as young as eight years old. Let’s take a closer look at this dangerous new trend . . .

According to an article published in the Los Angeles Times, the American Academy of Pediatrics has made this recommendation based on the idea that statins can help prevent harmful plaque buildup in a child’s arteries, which can lead to stroke and heart attack later in life. 

However those that oppose such a recommendation state that “drugging” up children to create “good” cholesterol numbers is not the same as children having good cholesterol numbers when they are healthy. 

In 2007 the American Heart Association recommended using statins in children and adolescents.  However, this recommendation was only intended for children who had serious lipid abnormalities, such as familial hypercholesterolemia or any other cardiovascular conditions that kept cholesterol at a high level.  The recommendation was not meant for all children, especially if simple lifestyle changes would reduce cholesterol levels, as in the case of childhood obesity.

As this situation comes to light it has definitely served as a wake up call to parents, alerting them to really take into consideration their children’s lifestyles and the steps needed to change those lifestyles to help prevent health dangers down the road. This is especially important as one-third of children in the U.S. are overweight, and almost 17 percent are considered obese.

What can parents do BEFORE considering harmful statins?

The best thing parents can do for their children is to watch their diet and get them out and moving.

Dietary Tips
  • Check dietary fat intake.  Fat should be lowered to less than 30 percent of calories, which includes saturated fat that is found in meat and whole-milk (saturated fat should be less than 10 percent of calories).  Children should not take in more than 200 milligrams of cholesterol a day.  Saturated fat increases blood cholesterol levels the most.
  • If cholesterol levels do not decrease with the above recommendations, decrease saturated intake to seven percent of calories, which keeps total fat below 27 percent. 
  • Trans-fatty acids need to be less than one percent of calories. Keep them out of the hands of children!
  • Children as young as one year can cut whole milk and begin drinking reduced fat milk. This is according to new dietary guidelines.
  • Fiber is an excellent source for lowering cholesterol.  Fiber foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables will bind bile and blood cholesterol to form waste, which is eliminated from the body.  Government recommendations for fiber are as follows: kids age two to three should have three ounces of grains per day; this increases gradually to seven ounces by age 14 to 18. 

Tips for Exercise
Although exercise is very important for your child’s health, it is not yet proven that exercise by itself will lower cholesterol levels.  However, exercise will increase levels of HDL, which is the protective cholesterol.  Plus, physical activity will help your child to lose weight, which has been proven to lower total cholesterol in adults.

Hang in there
It could take up to six months before you see an improvement in your child’s cholesterol levels.  This is why it is imperative to keep up the food and exercise program you set up for your child.  It can be frustrating at times, for both of you.  However, having to take pills that a healthy lifestyle could prevent is a much worse alternative. 

Remember, there are children who do have medical reasons why they have high cholesterol levels.  For these children, it is necessary to try the statins to help prevent plaque buildup.  But for those of you who have children who just need a change in their lifestyle from eating “junk food” and lying around playing video games or spending hours on the computer, you must take charge of your children’s life and encourage them to make better choices for their own health. 

And, as much as you can try to force them to eat right and exercise, unless you instill in them the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, they will only do what they can to appease you, then go back to those bad habits. 

The take-away message? Start early.  Save your children from the effects of having to take statins unnecessarily.  Someday your children will thank you for teaching them how to make healthy choices.

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