Compelling evidence exists that the atherosclerotic process begins in childhood and progresses slowly into adulthood, at which time it leads frequently to coronary heart disease (CHD), the major cause of death in the United States. Despite substantial success in reducing CHD mortality in the past two decades, the disease is still responsible for more than 500 000 deaths annually. About 20% of hospital discharges for acute CHD are for premature disease, ie, in patients younger than 55 years of age. Many of these adults have children who may have CHD risk factors that need attention. Estimates of the annual cost of CHD range from $41.5 to $56 billion.
The Report of the Expert Panel on Blood Cholesterol Levels in Children and Adolescents (which appears as a supplement to this issue of the journal) reviews the evidence that atherosclerosis or its precursors begin in young people; that elevated cholesterol levels early in life play a role in the development of adult atherosclerosis; that eating patterns and genetics affect blood cholesterol levels and CHD risk; and that lowering levels in children and adolescents will be beneficial. Cholesterol is the focus of the report, but other risk factors for atherosclerosis and CHD may originate early in life and should be addressed as well. Specifically, cigarette smoking should be discouraged; hypertension should be identified and treated; obesity should be avoided or reduced; regular aerobic exercise should be encouraged; and diabetes mellitus should be diagnosed and treated.
SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD CHOLESTEROL LEVELS IN CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE
- Received September 13, 1991.
- Accepted September 13, 1991.
- Copyright © 1992 by the American Academy of Pediatrics