Looks like the big pharmaceutical companies have another group to push questionable cholesterol lowering drugs on. Following a call for more aggressive screening and treatment of cholesterol in childhood, a new study published in the journal Circulation shows that about 200,000 U.S. teens and preteens need medication to lower their cholesterol.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended last summer that doctors consider cholesterol-lowering drugs, called statins, for children aged 8 and older if a blood test shows they have high cholesterol, particularly if they have a family history of heart disease. In addition, drug treatment is recommended for lower LDL levels if certain cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes or obesity are present.
So, how many kids need statins? The study included records from nearly 10,000 children aged 6 to 17 who had a total cholesterol value assessed. The analysis showed that 0.8% qualified for statin treatment based upon the AAP guidelines. Given that there are about 25 million adolescents in the U.S, these data suggest that 200,000 individuals between ages 12 and 17 would qualify for statin treatment to keep their cholesterol levels in check.
The study’s lead author stated, “It is a matter of opinion whether one thinks 0.8% is a small or large percentage. What I think is most important here is that given the rise in childhood obesity and risk factors such as smoking and lack of exercise that adolescents are exposed to, we need to continually assess and monitor the lipid status of children and adolescents.”
Giving statins to kids might be another example of the pharmaceutical companies putting their balance sheet in front of the evidence. Statins are widely prescribed but there is surprisingly little clinical evidence that demonstrates a true preventative benefit for otherwise healthy adults — and even less for children. The American Heart Association recommends lifestyle changes such as increased exercise and healthier eating (did someone say “plant-based diet“?) as the first line of treatment for children who have high cholesterol. Sounds like a better idea than seeing what the life long side effects of statins would be on kids.