All children should have their cholesterol tested between the ages of 9 and 11, according to guidelines released Friday.
The recommendation comes from a 14-member expert panel convened by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which will publish the panel’s report Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
It marks a significant expansion from the 1992 guidelines, which had recommended that children get their cholesterol checked only if there is a history of high cholesterol or early heart disease in their families.
The panel decided to push for expanded testing because accumulating evidence suggests that high cholesterol in childhood can lead to early signs of heart disease and that the current approach could leave some children at risk, said Stephen R. Daniels of the University of Colorado, who led the panel.
“There have been studies showing the targeted approach doesn’t work that well and misses some children with high cholesterol who would benefit from diet and exercise,” Daniels said in an interview.
The test can be done fairly simply and inexpensively by obtaining a small amount of blood. No fasting is needed.
But the new recommendation, based on an exhaustive review of the latest research, immediately came under criticism from some. Nortin M. Hadler, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said he had “grave reservations” about the new recommendation. Elevated cholesterol levels do not necessarily lead to heart disease, he noted.
But Daniels defended the recommendation, saying most children found to have high cholesterol would be able to control it by improving their diets and exercising more.