High cholesterol in children: Causes, treatment, and more

People often view high cholesterol as a condition that only affects adults. However, high cholesterol levels can also cause problems in children, including heart disease and even stroke.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that comes from a person’s liver. It is also present in certain food products. The body uses cholesterol in the production of cells, vitamins, and hormones.

However, high levels of cholesterol can cause issues for people of all ages.

There are two main forms of cholesterol. The first, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — which doctors refer to as “bad” cholesterol, can build up on artery walls, which may cause blockages.

The other primary type, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is called “good” cholesterol, helps carry LDL cholesterol away from the arteries.

It is important that all individuals ensure they have healthy cholesterol levels. This article explores what leads to high cholesterol in children, its symptoms, and the treatment options.

Cholesterol levels in children

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 1 in 5 adolescents are affected by high cholesterol.

The following table includes information from the AHA regarding levels of cholesterol in children and adolescents aged 0⁠–19 years.

Health experts measure cholesterol levels in the blood using milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) notes that children as young as 2 with high cholesterol risk factors should have their cholesterol levels tested. These risk factors include:

a family history of early heart disease, which is 55 years or younger for males and 65 years or younger for females

having a parent with high cholesterol



Additionally, the NHLBI recommends that a child have their cholesterol levels tested between the ages of 9–11 years. They should then undergo a cholesterol screening every 5 years or sooner, depending on certain risk factors.

Causes of high cholesterol in children

There are various reasons why a child may have high cholesterol levels, such as diet or certain health conditions.


Saturated and trans fats are types of fat in certain foods. These types of fats can cause the liver to make more cholesterol than the body requires.

If a child’s diet contains high amounts of saturated and trans fats, it can lead to high cholesterol levels.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that obesity in children can also lead to high cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Foods that contain saturated or trans fats include:

high fat cheese

high fat meats

whole fat milk and cream


ice cream

palm and coconut oils

processed goods, such as cookies, potato chips, and fried foods

To maintain a nutritious diet, the AHA recommends that a child aged 2–3 years receive a total fat intake of 30–35% from their daily calories. The organization also suggests that children aged 4–18 years receive 25-35% fat from their daily calories.


A child living with diabetes can put them at increased risk of developing high cholesterol levels.

Diabetes can cause a condition called diabetic dyslipidemiaTrusted Source, which lowers HDL levels and raises LDL levels.

A 2016 study found that out of 202 children with diabetes, 26.2% had dyslipidemia. However, further research is needed to determine the frequency of the condition in children with diabetes in the United States.


Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fatty deposits, known as plaque, build up in a person’s arteries. Plaque consists of:


fatty substances

cellular waste


fibrin, a clotting agent in the blood

The exact cause of atherosclerosis is unknown, although doctors believe it develops in childhood.

While it is unlikely to cause issues in children, atherosclerosis can cause health complications if it develops further during adulthood.

Familial hypercholesterolemia

Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a genetic condition that can lead to high cholesterol. According to the FH Foundation, the disease affects 1 in 250 people worldwide.

FH causes high amounts of LDL cholesterol due to a mutation in a gene responsible for removing cholesterol from the body. If the body cannot remove cholesterol correctly, it can build up in the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis.

The condition is genetic — an individual with FH has a 50% chance of passing it on to their children.


According to the National Library of Medicine, children do not usually have any symptoms of high cholesterol. A child should have their cholesterol levels checked routinely, particularly if they have risk factors.

Possible complications

Having high levels of cholesterol can put a child at risk of developing the following conditions:

heart disease


heart attack

chronic kidney disease

Treatment and management

There is little information regarding the treatment of high cholesterol in children. However, guidance from the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions suggests the following lifestyle changes:

eating more fruit and vegetables

using vegetable oils and soft margarine in place of butter or animal fat

replacing refined-grain bread and cereals with wholegrain substitutes

reducing the intake of sugary foods and beverages

using low fat or nonfat milk

eating more fish and lean cuts of meat

removing skin from poultry

reducing salt intake

learning about balanced diets and suitable portion sizes

exercising for around 60 minutes per day

Additionally, to reduce the chances of children developing high cholesterol, the AHA recommends that parents or caregivers take the following measures:

discouraging cigarette smoking

encouraging regular exercise

knowing how to identify and treat high blood pressure

helping a child maintain a moderate weight

encouraging a healthy diet

knowing the symptoms of diabetes

Additionally, statins, a form of cholesterol-lowering medication, may be beneficial when treating high cholesterol in children. Research from 2019 found that statins can be a safe short-term treatment for children with FH. However, scientists are yet to determine the long-term effects of statins in children.

When to contact a doctor

A parent or caregiver should ensure they take their child to have their cholesterol levels checked routinely. Generally, there are no symptoms of high cholesterol in children, so frequent testing is essential.

If a parent or guardian notices any of the following symptoms of heart problems in a child, they should contact their doctor:

In babies

not eating

not gaining weight

excessive sweating

fast breathing

In infants

shortness of breath


abnormal heart rhythm

passing out

physically being unable to keep up with other children

In older children

abnormal heartbeat

passing out during exercise

excessive shortness of breath


High cholesterol can affect people of any age. In children, it can be due to diet or various health conditions.

Since there are usually no symptoms of high cholesterol in children, they should have their levels tested every 5 years or more frequently, depending on risk factors and recommendations from a doctor. Children with risk factors for high cholesterol can have their cholesterol levels tested from 2 years of age.

Treatments for high cholesterol in children usually involve lifestyle changes. However, there are short-term cholesterol-lowering medications.

If a person notices any signs of heart problems in their child, they should contact a doctor.


Source: Medical News Today