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Prev Med. 1998 Nov-Dec;27(6):879-90.

Distributions and trends of serum lipid levels among United States children and adolescents ages 4-19 years: data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

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National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hyattsville, Maryland 20782, USA.



Atherosclerosis begins in childhood and progresses into adulthood. The reduction of cardiovascular risk factors, such as elevated serum total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels, in childhood may reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in adulthood. Lipid distributions among children and adolescents were examined using the most recent nationally representative data.


Data from 7,499 examinees in NHANES III (1988-1994) were used to estimate mean and percentile distributions of serum total cholesterol, LDL-C, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), and triglycerides in children and adolescents aged 4 to 19 years. The estimates were analyzed by age, sex, and race/ethnic groups. Trends in mean total cholesterol were examined for 12- to 17-year-olds using data from NHES III (1966-1970), NHANES I (1971-1974), and NHANES III (1988-1994).


For children and adolescents 4 to 19 years of age, the 95th percentile for serum total cholesterol was 216 mg/dL and the 75th percentile was 181 mg/dL. Mean age-specific total cholesterol levels peaked at 171 mg/dL at 9-11 years of age and fell thereafter. Females had significantly higher mean total cholesterol and LDL-C levels than did males (P < 0.005). Non-Hispanic black children and adolescents had significantly higher mean total cholesterol, LDL-C, and HDL-C levels compared to non-Hispanic white and Mexican American children and adolescents. The mean total cholesterol level among 12- to 17-year-olds decreased by 7 mg/dL from 1966-1970 to 1988-1994 and is consistent with, but less than, observed trends in adults. Black females have experienced the smallest decline between surveys.


The findings provide a picture of the lipid distribution among U.S. children and adolescents and indicate that, like adults, adolescents have experienced a fall in total cholesterol levels. Total cholesterol levels in U.S. adolescents declined from the late 1960s to the early 1990s by an average of 7 mg/dL. This information is useful for planning programs targeting the prevention of cardiovascular disease beginning with the development of healthy lifestyles in childhood.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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