Tots Popping Pills to Lower Cholesterol: Necessary or Poor Reflection on the Health of our Children?

Friday Reflection: Cholesterol- Lowering Drugs for Children

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman for Dr. Robyn’s Powerful Parenting Blog

Today, I am frightened. Have we hit a new low? The diet, physical activity, school lunch options and overall health maintenance plan for school-age children has been so compromised in recent years that the American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending “statins,” drugs to lower high cholesterol levels, as part of the health plan for “at-risk” children as young as 8 years old.

“Obviously all of us want kids to really take care of their health,” said Dr. Marcie Schneider, a member of the nutrition committee who is an adolescent medicine specialist in Greenwich, Conn. “We want them exercising, we want them eating well. You try the least invasive things always first, but at some point if that’s not helping enough, you need to go to the next level.”

While some youngsters have genetic predispositions towards higher cholesterol, statins will also be geared towards children as young as 8 years old with LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) at 190 milligrams per deciliter or higher, of those with an LDL of 160 and a family history of heart disease or 2 other risk factors such as being diagnosed medically with diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity.

“When you have a kid whose cholesterol looks like an overweight 65-year-old, what do you do?” said Dr. David Ludwig, director of the childhood obesity program at Children’s Hospital in Boston. “The committee had to balance the risks of treating children with powerful drugs, about which there is limited long-term data, with the risks of not treating children with unprecedented cardiovascular disease risk factors.”

The Issue: Concern that children are at risk for heart disease and heart attacks due to high cholesterol.

The New Guidelines: Issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, citing that children as young as 8 should be put on cholesterol-lowering drugs if they meet the criteria for being “at-risk.”

The Problems: Several problems with these new recommendations have been cited.

Here are a few:

  1. There are no long term studies on how these drugs will affect the children in the long run—especially if they plan to take it for the rest of their life.
  2. The side effects are unknown for children. Adult side effects have been noted; such as cognitive problems and muscle pain.
  3. There is fear that the drug companies are now going to be advertising these drugs for children. “It will open the door for pharmaceutical companies to heavily advertise and promote their use in 8-year-olds, when we don’t know yet the long-term effect on using these drugs on prepubertal kids,” said Dr. Alan Greene, a pediatrician in Danville, Calif., and the founder of the popular Web site DrGreene.com.
  4. As reported in the New York Times, “We’re talking about potentially treating thousands and thousands of children simply to possibly prevent one heart attack,” says Dr. Sanghavi, from the University of Massachusetts. “That kind of risk benefit calculation is entirely absent from the A.A.P.’s policy.” Dr. Sanghavi, went on to say that statin drugs may affect a child’s endocrine system, which regulates growth and development, among other things. “I, for one, feel unsafe simply saying children are little adults in this case,” he said.
  5. There is no evidence that these drugs will prevent heart attacks later in life.
  6. It’s so easy to pop pills; A “push-button” solution may encourage children to continue eating a poor diet, refrain from getting enough exercise, and embracing an overall positive health maintenance plan. This can lead to many more dangerous health problems and a perceived “lower priority need” for good health education and lunch programs in school.
  7. The drugs are expensive and require consistent blood tests to rule out any complications.
  8. Proposing these kinds of drugs for young children may unleash widespread use of drugs for children.
  9. There is concern that there are financial ties between the doctors who prescribe and the drug companies who supply.
  10. People are concerned that children are not “little adults” and should not be treated as such.

***I’d love to hear the opinions of all you Powerful Parents and educators out there on the new guidelines and if you feel that it’s a good move, a cop-out, a poor reflection on the state of children’s health today, or the best solution for our times. What do you think? Please comment below.

Have a powerful weekend!

top image: Jupiter

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