Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Statin Drugs for 8-Year-Olds????

When I heard this on the news I was appalled. Healthy children, even overweight children with high cholesterol, do not have heart attacks. Why give them drugs in childhood to prevent something that the children themselves can prevent when they grow up? And their parents, rather than administering pills like mindless characters in a sci-fi book, should give their children a healthy lifestyle from the start.

Like every other drug out there, statins are not without side effects. I know several people (adults in their 50s and 60s) who had to come off them. They hope the damage done to their livers and muscles wasn't permanent. Damage done to a young, developing body would add a whole new level of worry.

Both sides of my family have a strong history of diabetes and fatal heart attacks. I watched my dad give up smoking and change his diet, reversing the heart disease that crippled him in his forties, and live to be ninety. I have to be strict about my own diet. I would never permit my child to be medicated in this way. Nor would I be crazy about the idea of having my two-year-olds tested.

We are an over-medicated, over-diagnosed society. Sadly, a large segment of the population seems to be content with this situation.

From the New York Times, here's what I'm talking about:

AMERICAN pediatricians are recommending wider cholesterol screening for children and more aggressive use of cholesterol-lowering drugs, starting as early as the age of eight, in hopes of preventing adult heart problems.

New guidelines issued yesterday by the American Academy of Pediatrics also call for children to be given low-fat milk after 12 months of age. The recommendations are certain to fuel a continuing debate about the use of prescription drugs in children and about the best approaches to ward off heart disease in adults.

But proponents say evidence is growing that the first signs of heart disease show up in childhood, and with 30% of US children overweight or obese, many doctors fear a rash of early-onset heart attacks and diabetes.

The academy estimates that 30 to 60% of children with high cholesterol are being missed under screening guidelines. For some children, cholesterol-lowering drugs, called statins, may be their best hope of lowering their risk of early heart attack, proponents say.

"We are in an epidemic," said Dr Jatinder Bhatia, a member of the academy's nutrition committee, which is making the recommendation, and professor and chief of neonatology at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. "The risk of giving statins at a lower age is less than the benefit."

Dr Bhatia said that while there is not "a whole lot" of data, research shows cholesterol-lowering drugs are safe for children. Surprisingly, the paper in the journal Pediatrics that explains the guidelines notes that average total cholesterol levels in children, as well as LDL and HDL cholesterol, have remained stable, while triglyceride levels have dropped, based on data from 1988 to 2000.

The recommendations call for cholesterol screening of children and adolescents, starting as early as two and no later than 10, if they come from families with a history of high cholesterol or heart attacks before the age of 55 for men and 65 for women.


Jenny Hill said...

Ugh. Another case of "let's just medicate the problem." How about just stop eating crappy, processed foods, and get some exercise? We're not that far off from Brave New World anymore. Soma, anyone?

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