The danger of obesity and weight gain in children
Learn more about common lipid disorders that can result from childhood obesity and how to prevent them.
Obesity from poor diet or lack of physical exercise can put your child at risk for acquired lipid disorders like high triglycerides. An acquired lipid disorder is often associated with other chronic conditions, like fatty-liver disease, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and more. These potential health issues may affect your child’s quality of life now or in the future.
Jennifer Kelley, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist in the Pediatric Lipid Clinic at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, explains more about acquired lipid disorders in kids.
What causes elevated triglyceride levels?
Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) in the blood. Kids who have a diet that is high in saturated fat and sugar may develop elevated triglyceride levels. We get sugar from traditionally sweet foods, like candy or soda, but also from highly processed foods like white bread, Kelley said. Normal triglyceride levels for children are usually less than 150 mg/dL. High levels are 200 to 499 mg/dL, and any level above 500 mg/dL is considered very high.
Why are high triglyceride levels a concern?
If levels get very high, close to 1,000 mg/dL, a child becomes at risk for pancreatitis, a serious inflammation of the pancreas. “Often levels are not that high in children,” Kelley said. But a level above 200 mg/dL is still a concern. Over time, this can be associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. High triglyceride levels are also associated with metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. And type 2 diabetes is often linked with other metabolic disorders, such as fatty liver disease and hypertension, Kelley said. Elevated triglyceride levels often go along with low levels of the “good cholesterol,” known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is beneficial for protecting the heart from cardiovascular disease.
When should a child be screened for triglyceride levels?
Although every clinic is a little different, Kelley says, many pediatricians will run a lipid panel around ages 9 to 11. That’s the age range the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends testing cholesterol levels. “Parents can discuss with their pediatricians whether additional screening beyond the universal screening is warranted,” Kelley said. If you’re noticing weight gain, have a conversation with your child’s care provider.
What are the treatments for children with high triglyceride levels?
Monitoring daily habits such as having a family dinner together, making dietary changes and increasing physical activity are the first lines of defense against elevated triglyceride levels. Kelley recommends parents help their kids reduce sugar and saturated fat intake and add more fruits, veggies and lean meats to their diets. She says an appointment with a dietitian can be helpful for families to find a list of meals and snacks that will fit their unique tastes and lifestyle.
She also encourages parents to help their kids get moving. She wants patients to aim for 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day, working up to 60 minutes over time if they are starting out from being relatively sedentary.
“If we have kids whose triglycerides continue to remain very high despite nutritional changes, we sometimes add on a medication called omega-3 fatty acids,” she said. Kelley recommends talking with your child’s physician for guidance before giving this over-the-counter supplement, however. In rare cases, children with very high levels may need a type of prescription medication called fibrates.
Are lipid disorders inherited?
“There can be a family history or prevalence of high triglycerides,” Kelley said. In these instances, kids may not show signs of obesity or weight gain. Or if they do, they could still have a genetic condition. However, genetic triglyceride disorders are usually rare. That’s why all kids should be screened regardless of their weight, she said.
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The Pediatric Endocrinology Program at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt has been ranked as one of the best in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. For more information or to make an appointment, call 615-322-7427 or click here.