EL PASO, Texas - Heart disease is the leading killer of American men and women, but the risk of developing heart disease may begin far earlier in life.
A recent study by Queen Mary University of London found the inherited risk of heart disease in babies was twice as common as previously believed.
In 2016, researchers screened more than 10,000 children aged one to two for high cholesterol. If the children had a gene mutation responsible for the disorder, their parents were tested as well. For every 1,000 people screened, four kids and four parents were identified as being at risk for early heart disease. Those numbers are nearly twice what previous studies have found.
Having high cholesterol doesn't necessarily translate into the physical appearance. Which is why at first, the pediatrician for Victoria Gomez's son didn't see the need to screen him for high cholesterol.
"'No, he's young, he's really thin, he probably doesn't need it,'" Gomez said, recounting her conversation with the pediatrician last July. "But ... they checked it and sure enough it came out to 369 mg/dL."
Doctors agree that normal cholesterol levels in children should be less than 170 milligrams per deciliter.
"I was just shocked," Gomez said. "I was like, 'Do we eat that badly?'"
A diet lacking in healthy foods, lack of exercise and obesity contribute to high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance made by the liver. It's one of the lipids, or fats, the body makes and is used to form cell membranes and some hormones. High levels of cholesterol are major risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Heredity is also one of the four primary factors of high cholesterol. In 2016, Troy's father underwent a sextuple bypass to clear his clogged arteries. Gomez said the medical history prompted her to have her 10-year-old son screened in the first place.
"My concern is for him to not end up like his dad with a sextuple bypass," Gomez said. "If we hadn't gotten it checked, there's no way we would have known."
But getting it treated has been difficult. Gomez was referred to a pediatric endocrinologist, but Troy was put on an 11-month waiting list. His appointment has just recently been moved from July to April. In the meantime, the pediatrician urged Troy to adopt a low-cholesterol diet.
"Now I mostly have veggie things," Troy said. "I have vegan burgers, vegan corn dogs and lots of salads."
Troy has been in kung fu lessons for four months. It's a good thing he's active, since doctors typically tell patients with high cholesterol to exercise more. Research shows that kids who are physically active also have a lower risk for having high levels of cholesterol in their blood.
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