January 29th, 2009
10:37 AM ET

Should children take cholesterol reducing drugs?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

Asked by Kate, Cherry Hill, New Jersey

"My 10-year-old is overweight and our doctor suggested he start taking statins. Is he too young to begin this type of medication? Is it even safe?"


Strange as it sounds, in rare cases prescribing statins to kids as young as 8-years-old is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But certainly, not every child who is overweight needs such treatment.

The academy recommends that doctors use the following criteria when prescribing statins to kids: a child’s LDL level above 160 plus two risk factors, such as being overweight and high blood pressure. Or a child with no risk factors but an LDL level above 190.

Although controversial to some, many experts agree that these cholesterol-lowering drugs are safe, and the benefits outweigh any potential side effects.

The American Academy of Pediatrics looks at it as a preventive measure, hoping to avoid serious health problems later in life. The U.S. has a generation of children developing adult-like health conditions that will put them at high risk for blood clots and heart disease by their mid-30s if parents and doctors don’t monitor it.

That’s one reason, with an estimated one in three of our kids overweight, pediatricians are beginning to track weight and cholesterol levels starting at age 2.

But is medication the only answer? Absolutely not. Parents first need to exhaust all diet and exercise options. Take walks at night or race around the living room to burn extra calories each day. And lead by example. If you make healthy food choices, your kids will pick those habits as well. Small changes can save kids from years of potential health problems. For an overweight child, losing just 5 percent of their body weight can reduce cholesterol levels and prevent the need for medication.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.