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Study supports screening preteens for high cholesterol

There is fresh evidence that a lot of young people could be headed for heart trouble. A large study of preteens in Texas found that about one-third of them had borderline or high cholesterol when tested during routine physical exams.

The results seem to support guidelines that call for every child to have a cholesterol test between 9 and 11 — the ages of the 13,000 youths in this study. Many doctors and adults have balked at screening all children that young, but researchers say studies like this may persuade them it’s worthwhile.

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‘‘A concerning number of children’’ are at risk of heart problems later in life, and more needs to be done to prevent this at an earlier age, said Dr. Thomas Seery of Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine.

He led the study, which will be presented at an American College of Cardiology summit in Washington this weekend.

Estimates are that by fourth grade, 10 to 13 percent of US children will have high cholesterol. Half of them will go on to have it as adults, raising their risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other health problems.

The new study involved children who had routine physicals from January 2010 to July 2011 at the largest pediatric primary care network in the nation. One-third were Hispanic, about one-third were white, and 18 percent were black. About one-third were obese.

Unhealthy total cholesterol levels were found in 34 percent. LDL or ‘‘bad cholesterol’’ was borderline or too high in 46 percent, and HDL or ‘‘good’’ cholesterol was borderline or too low in 44 percent. Just over half had normal triglycerides.

Boys were more likely than girls to have higher total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides, Seery said. Hispanics were more likely to have higher cholesterol and triglycerides.

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