CHICAGO — For the first time, an influential doctors group is recommending that some children as young as 8 be given cholesterol-fighting drugs to ward off future heart problems.
It is the strongest guidance ever given by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which released its new guidelines Monday. The academy also recommends low-fat milk for 1-year-olds and wider cholesterol testing.
Dr. Stephen Daniels, of the academy's nutrition committee, says the new advice is based on mounting evidence showing that damage leading to heart disease, the nation's leading killer, begins early in life.
It also stems from recent research showing that cholesterol-fighting drugs are generally safe for children, Daniels said.
Several of these drugs are approved for use in children, and data show that increasing numbers are using them.
”If we are more aggressive about this in childhood, I think we can have an impact on what happens later in life ... and avoid some of these heart attacks and strokes in adulthood,“ Daniels said.
Drug treatment would generally be targeted for children at least 8 years old who have too much LDL, the ”bad“ cholesterol, along with other risky conditions, including obesity and high blood pressure.
For overweight children with too little HDL, the ”good“ cholesterol, the first course of action should be weight loss, more physical activity and nutritional counseling, the academy says.
Pediatricians should routinely check the cholesterol of children with a family history of cholesterol disease or with parents or grandparents who developed heart disease at an early age, the recommendations say. Screening is also advised for children whose family history isn't known and those who are overweight or obese or who have other heart disease risk factors.
Screening is recommended sometime after age 2 but before age 10.
The academy's earlier advice said cholesterol drugs should be considered only in children older than 10 after they fail to lose weight. Its previous cholesterol screening recommendations also were less specific and did not include targeted ages for beginning testing.