Hands holding heartFrom cardiologists to endocrinologists to pediatricians, the physicians at Cook Children’s are seeing children with adult-sized problems, such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Cardiovascular disease is a national epidemic. Last week, the Expert Panel on Integrated Guidelines for Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents  recommended that all children, regardless of family history, undergo universal screening for elevated cholesterol levels.

The panel, appointed by the National Health, Lung and Blood Institute and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends that adolescents undergo lipid screening for nonfasting non-HDL-cholesterol levels or a fasting lipid panel between the ages of 9 and 11 years followed by another full lipid screening test between 18 and 21 years of age.

The panel also recommended measuring fasting glucose levels to test for diabetes in children 10 years of age (or at the onset of puberty) who are overweight with other risk factors, including a family history, for type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Benjamin Siu, M.D., a cardiologist at Cook Children’s, said the same habits that cause heart disease and hypertension in adults also impacts children.

Dr. Siu stresses the importance of the entire family working together to solve their overeating problems to help avoid issues that come with obesity or being overweight – particularly heart disease and diabetes. While medication does play a role in the health of children with a genetic component of lipid disorder, families can get good results when they work to change their lifestyles.

“As a doctor, I feel fortunate to help diagnose and explain things, but if I am able to educate the parents and help them make lifestyle changes, that’s what’s important,” Dr. Siu said. “Along with recommendations on healthy living and dietary choices, it is the parents who should take credit for success, not me.”

Joel Steelman, M.D., an endocrinologist at Cook Children’s, has devoted increased time over the last couple of years learning about management of traditionally adult conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels that are now appearing with greater frequency in the children seen in our endocrine clinic at Cook Children’s.

“At Cook Children’s, we now have to learn how to treat children with historically adult conditions based upon adult treatment guidelines because there is little to no past experience with these problems in the pediatric specialty,” Dr. Steelman said. “We must begin to prevent and manage obesity in childhood because obesity will not only negatively impact children’s physical and mental health, it may ultimately shorten their life.”

Dr. Steelman said the good news is that there are numerous programs and approaches to prevention and treatment of childhood obesity. Most every approach has common elements of food choices balanced with an active lifestyle, limiting television and computer time and eating together as a family.

According to registered dietitian Theresa Nash, clinical nutrition manager of Cook Children’s, many factors contribute to increased numbers of overweight children. More children are at home alone after school, and for safety reasons, parents do not want them to go outside and play. In addition, busy families often rely on an inexpensive and convenient fast food – which is often high in fat and loaded with sugars – rather than healthier family meals.

In addition to eating properly, Nash recommends these tips for getting children active:

  • Ideally, parents should go out and walk or bike with their children on a regular basis to help establish these activities as fun and healthy habits.
  • If going outside isn’t an option, children who are home alone should be encouraged to exercise with a jump rope or affordable resistance bands that don’t require much space.
  • During television commercials, encourage children to do jumping jacks or run in place.

Cook Children’s offers the Weight Management and Healthy Lifestyle program, covering the above and other topics over an eight-week course. For this and other programs offered, please contact Outpatient Nutrition Services at 682-885-4046.

“It’s not so much about exercising but moving,” Nash said. “Children today have so much sedentary time sitting at their desk or computer, watching TV or playing video games. It can be done. All of our goals should be to get ourselves and our kids moving.”

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