Federal report urges low-fat food for kids.
Spare the fat, save the child. That's the message from a panel of health experts who have issued the first comprehensive report aimed at reducing blood cholesterol levels in U.S. children and teenagers. Released this week, the new recommendations from the federal National Cholesterol Education Program underscore a growing consensus that high-fat diets can cause fatty debris to deposit on artery walls -- a process that can start in childhood and lead to heart attacks later.
"I cannot overemphasize the importance of the expert panel's work," said Claude Lenfant, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, during the report's unveiling at a conference in Washington, D.C. "Coronary heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States, killing over 500,000 Americans each year."
The panel views anything above 170 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter (mg/dl) of blood as too high in children and adolescents. To reduce heart risk, panelists recommend preparing low-fat, low-cholesterol foods for all family members except children under age 2, who need more fat for proper growth.
Expanding on a dietary blueprint developed last year by another NCEP panel (SN: 3/3/90, p.132), the new report suggests that children get no more than 10 percent of their total calories from saturated fat; no more than 30 percent of their total calories from all fats; and less than 300 mg of cholesterol per day.
For most families, than means more emphasis on vegetables, lean red meats, skinless poultry, fish and low-fat dairy products such as skim milk. To entice finicky eaters, panelists suggest serving a variety of food favorites prepared in a heart-healthy way, such as tacos made with lean meat.
The panel decided against recommending cholesterol blood tests for all children and teens. Panel chairman Ronald M. Lauer, a pediatrician with the University of Iowa in Iowa City, says such tests are not cost effective and can falsely indicate risk in certain children, causing needless anxiety.
However, the panel does recommend blood cholesterol tests for high-risk children and teenagers. This group includes those whose parents or grandparents developed coronary artery disease before age 55 and those whose parents have blood cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dl or more. Nearly 15 million of the nation's 60 million children and teenagers currently fall into this high-risk category, the panel estimates.
Scott M. Grundy, a cholesterol expert at the University of Texas' Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, notes the report fails to stress the need for exercise, which can help regulate blood cholesterol levels in children and adults.
While emphasizing dietary strategies, the NCEP report states that physicians should consider cholesterol-reducing drugs for very high-risk children aged 10 or older whole levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) remain risky despite dietary therapy. If left untreated, such children may suffer heart attacks as early as their 20s, Lauer says.