If you, your parents or your parents' siblings had a heart attack before age 55 and you have a child, this advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) might surprise you: Have your child's cholesterol tested.

Under certain circumstances the AAP says cholesterol-lowering diets, under a pediatrician's supervision, are safe for children.

Which children need testing?

The AAP recommends cholesterol tests for children age 2 and older and teens in these situations:

  • A parent, parents or grandparents had atherosclerosis before age 55.

  • A parent, parents or grandparents had a heart attack or vascular disease before age 55.

  • A parent or parents have cholesterol of 300 or greater.

Youre health care provider will evaluate the child's diet, exercise habits and body mass index and order a cholesterol screening, if indicated. If the child has a total cholesterol level of greater than 200 mg/dl, your provider may do a full screening, including high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good" cholesterol), low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol and triglycerides. If the child has an LDL level of 164 mg/dl or higher, your provider may do a more extensive evaluation.

In some cases, the AAP suggests, children should be tested if they have a higher heart-disease risk because of smoking, high blood pressure, obesity or diet, or if their parents' medical records aren't available.

What are the best numbers?

For children between ages 2 and 18, these are the best results:

  • Fasting total cholesterol: less than 170 mg/dl, optimal; 170 to 199 mg/dl, borderline high

  • Fasting LDL cholesterol: less than 110 mg/dl, acceptable; 110 to 129 mg/dl, borderline; 130 mg/dl or more, the child should be screened for causes

  • HDL: greater than 35 mg/dl, acceptable; less than 35 mg/dl is considered high risk

How to cut cholesterol

Begin healthy habits early, and remember that children mimic your habits. Michael Mogadam, M.D., author of the book Every Heart Attack Is Preventable, offers these tips:

  • Choose healthier eating habits your child will follow.

  • Pack your kid's lunch. Prepare meals of no more than 30 percent of calories from fat, and try to balance the types of fats included (polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated).

  • Cut back on fried foods; pastries; cracker and chip snacks, which are high in fat and salt; cheese; high-fat spreads such as butter, margarine and mayonnaise; and salad dressings. Use low-fat salad dressings instead.

  • Allow children no more than one or two fast-food meals a week.

Medical Reviewer: [Brown, Carolyn RN, MN, CCRN, CNS, Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN, Harrell, Jennifer MA, RD, LD, Lambert, J.G. M.D., Lesperance, Leann MD] Last Annual Review Date: 2011-09-25T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: © Health Ink & Vitality Communications

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Kids who grow quickly as toddlers or teens tend to have lower cholesterol levels as adults, new research says. A 2007 study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health also found that people who become overweight after age 15 are more likely to have higher cholesterol levels.