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Cholesterol levels drop in US children for first time in 20 years, study says

August 7, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Researchers say American kids are not eating less or exercising more, but an intensive national study shows children's average overall cholesterol levels have declined.

According to the report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers examined cholesterol levels of more than 1,600 U.S. children and teenagers over a 22-year period. They were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

"Over the study duration, we found improvements in the blood cholesterol levels among children ages 6 to 19 years of age in the United States," said Dr. Brian K. Kit of the CDCP.

So what's behind the improvement? Some experts think U.S. kids may be eating fewer trans fats. The artery clogging ingredient has been removed or reduced in many processed or fried foods, including cookies and French fries.

It's also possible smoking bans over the past 10 years have reduced children's' exposure to secondhand smoke, which can affect cholesterol levels.

"We know that blood cholesterol levels are impacted by a variety of factors, including dietary habits, physical activity and exposure to tobacco smoke," Kit said.

Despite the good news, experts say more needs to be done to reduce the childhood obesity rate.

"Reducing saturated fat intake is something that families can do to help keep their child healthy," Kit said. "Other things that families can do is to help them participate in sports activities."

Researchers say these declines are comparable to those reported among U.S. adults during a similar time frame.

Last year, a government panel urged widespread cholesterol screening for children.


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