20 percent. That’s how many teens have high cholesterol in the United States, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Although some health experts blame the rise in obesity in teenagers–it’s at an all-time high in the United States–genetics and diet may play a bigger role. There have been several high-profile cases of high cholesterol recorded in non-overweight teenagers, including a 17-year-old vegetarian from New York, who boasted a body mass index (BMI) of 20.1 during her diagnosis.
Yet, only 7 percent of parents are actively testing their children for high cholesterol, according to CNN.com.
How to Lower Your Teen’s High Cholesterol
As of now, experts aren’t recommending statin drugs to lower your teen’s high cholesterol levels–at least not yet. Diet and exercise may be more effective, especially in teenagers who are overweight or obese. The following recommendations may safely reduce your teen’s high cholesterol levels:
1. Make sure they’re off nicotine. Though less teens are using cigarettes these days, some still do–and that can decrease good cholesterol levels. People who quit smoking usually see an improvement in good cholesterol levels, which also reduces their risk for heart disease. Teens can choose to quit cold turkey or join a stop smoking program, but whatever they do, it’s important to quit.
2. Encourage them to maintain a healthy weight. According to the CDC, more than 40 percent of obese teens have high cholesterol levels–nearly double the amount of healthy-sized teens. Poor diet and little exercise is likely the cause for their risk. If your teen is overweight or obese, it’s important to encourage him or her to lose weight by engaging in a healthy eating and exercise program–going on a crash diet won’t necessarily improve good cholesterol levels.
3. Encourage them to exercise regularly. According to WebMD.com, regular physical activity can increase good cholesterol by 10 percent, while significantly reducing bad cholesterol levels. But how much is enough? Experts recommend that teens engage in physical activity at least 30 minutes a day
4. Buy more fruits for your teens. Studies show that people who eat fruits regularly face a lower risk for high cholesterol and other heart problems, such as heart disease. So how do you encourage your teen to eat more fruits? Try serving it as an after-school snack or during breakfast for that extra boost of fiber.
5. Have them eat more omega-3s. In this situation, omega-3 refers to the cold water fatty fish that are high in this type of fatty acid, which has been shown to reduce high cholesterol levels. To make it really count, cook at least two servings of cold water fatty fish every week to lower your teen’s cholesterol levels. Mackerel, salmon and tuna are all great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
In addition to these recommendations, watching your teen’s carbohydrate intake may also help. According to a 2008 study reported by About.com, men who ate a low-carb diet saw vast improvements in their cholesterol levels. Your teen may also benefit from a low-carb diet–under medical supervision, of course.
Sarah Klein, “CDC: 1 in 5 teens Has Cholesterol Problems. Now What?” (CNN.com)
David Freeman, “11 Tips to Cut Your Cholesterol Fast” (WebMD.com)
Laura Dolson, “Low-Carb Diets Improve Cholesterol Even Without Weight Loss” (About.com)