Finally some good news about cholesterol and kids: A big government study shows that in the past decade, the proportion of children who have high cholesterol has fallen. The results are surprising, given that the childhood obesity rate didn’t budge. Some experts think that while most kids may not be eating less or exercising more, they may be getting fewer trans fats. The artery-clogging ingredient has been removed or reduced in many processed or fried foods such as doughnuts, cookies and french fries.
Too much cholesterol in the blood raises the risk of heart disease. It isn’t usually an immediate threat for most children, but those who have the problem often grow into adults with a high risk. The researchers in the latest study also detected modest improvements in children’s levels of good cholesterol, which can protect the heart. That may be partly due to declines in teen smoking and childhood exposure to secondhand smoke over the last decade. Studies have found that chemicals in cigarette smoke can lower good cholesterol.
Artificial trans fats are known to decrease good cholesterol and increase bad cholesterol. In 2006, the federal government began requiring that packaged foods list the amount of trans fat per serving, a boon for careful shoppers. Meanwhile, a push to take trans fats out of foods gained momentum. New York City banned artificial trans fats in restaurant food in 2008. California in 2010 became the first state to adopt such a ban. Even Crisco, the goopy shortening that was trans fat incarnate, was reformulated to take it out.
Despite the good news, experts remain worried. Seventeen percent of U.S. children are obese, perhaps because they are still eating lots of carbohydrates and sugar. That, along with little exercise, can lead to diabetes and heart disease. However, it’s encouraging to know that education and awareness is making an impact.