More than a quarter of elementary pupils in the Cerritos ABC Unified School District who are participating in a pilot project have shown elevated levels of cholesterol in their blood.
If the high levels continue when they become adults, district school nurse Teri Book said, the youngsters could be at risk of heart disease or stroke.
The 190 pupils who were given blood-cholesterol tests attend Juarez Elementary School and are participating in a three-year state project designed to change their life styles and help them grow to be healthier adults. The tests were given in January, and individual parents were immediately informed. But overall results were not released until this week.
Of the pupils who had their blood analyzed to determine the cholesterol count, 50, or 26.3%, had cholesterol levels higher than those recommended for adults by the American Heart Assn., according to Book.
The heart association recommends that the cholesterol levels for adults be below 200 milligrams per deciliter, the unit of measurement for blood fats. There is no guideline for children.
"Not much is known about children. Guidelines are just beginning to be established as to what's to be done about high cholesterol levels," Book said.
A similar study done last spring among fourth-graders in the Westminster School District revealed that about 14% had cholesterol levels above 200, said Dr. Dennis M. Davidson, director of Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiology at UC Irvine School of Medicine who headed the cholesterol screening project for Westminster.
Davidson said he believes it is a medically conservative course "to assume that they may be be at risk later on" if steps are not taken to reduce the levels.
"I don't think we are alarming anyone," Davidson said.
The fact that the percentage of ABC pupils showing elevated levels was about twice that of the Westminster group is confusing, said Pam Graham, coordinator of the ABC employee health and fitness center.
"We were puzzled by that. I don't think we can generalize why, but maybe our kids are, for whatever reason, on more of a high fat diet. It is a real concern," said Graham.
In the ABC district, letters were sent to parents explaining what cholesterol is and how levels could be controlled by the proper diet. A list of low-fat foods was included.
Parents whose children had high cholesterol counts were asked to take their youngsters to their private physicians. They were also encouraged to come to the school and have their own cholesterol tested with a finger prick to draw a small amount of blood.
One of the parents, Mrs. DeAnna Carey, who has four children attending Juarez, has nothing but praise for the program.
"It has changed our life style. When the kids go into fast food places they order salads rather than hamburgers," said Carey, who has lost 30 pounds since becoming involved in the project.
She said her cholesterol level was 254 but has "returned to normal."
"I see the change in parents since the program began. Many kids now bring fruit in their lunches instead of candy," said Carey, who is a volunteer noon aide at Juarez.
All of the ABC children in the pilot program will be retested early next year. Westminster School District is rechecking its youngsters Saturday, said Sandy Landry, coordinating nurse for the district.
Although screening of cholesterol is not generally done on children, the Orange County results prompted Dr. Paul Y. Qaqundah, chairman of the health committee of the Orange County chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to call for early cholesterol screenings for all children in the county.
Qaqundah said he expects to ask at the next regular meeting of the chapter's 400 pediatricians in January that family physicians check their young patients for blood cholesterol.
"It is only a test. Family history isn't enough. It is preventive medicine. We should get children on a good diet. Get them off junk food. Reduce the risk of them having the 'big one' at 35 years," Qaqundah said.
Adult Screening Urged
On Monday, a federal advisory panel in Washington, D.C., urged that every adult be screened for cholesterol, and those with high levels be treated with strict diets or drugs to reduce heart disease risk. If the guidelines were followed, the panel said, as many as 300,000 heart attacks a year could be averted.
"I'm glad physicians are finally recognizing something the public has been aware of for some time," said Graham.
The blood cholesterol testing at Juarez was coordinated through the health and fitness center. The district purchased a blood chemistry analysis machine for $4,200 that is used for the test. Employees of the district and their families are also tested at the center for a fee of about $5 per test.