Government health experts recommended that all children be tested for high cholesterol before they reach puberty, in an effort to get an early start in preventing cardiovascular disease.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute said a child's first cholesterol check should occur between ages 9 and 11 and the test should be repeated between ages 17 and 21. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed the guideline.
The recommendation reflects growing evidence the biological processes that underlie heart attacks and other consequences of cardiovascular disease begin in childhood, even though manifestations of the diseases generally don't strike until middle age or later.
The guidelines also come amid broad concern about growing numbers of American children who are overweight or obese and thus potentially on course for diabetes, high blood pressure and other abnormalities. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 17% of American children are obese, triple the level three decades ago.