Final Recommendation Statement

Lipid Disorders in Children: Screening

July 15, 2007

Recommendations made by the USPSTF are independent of the U.S. government. They should not be construed as an official position of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This Recommendation is out of date

It has been replaced by the following: Lipid Disorders in Children and Adolescents: Screening (2016)

This topic is being updated. Please use the link(s) below to see the latest documents available.

Recommendation Summary

Population Recommendation Grade
Children age 1-20 The USPSTF concludes that the evidence is insufficient to recommend for or against routine screening for lipid disorders in infants, children, adolescents, or young adults (up to age 20). I

Clinician Summary

Additional Information

Recommendation Information

Full Recommendation:

Recommendations made by the USPSTF are independent of the U.S. government. They should not be construed as an official position of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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This statement summarizes the current U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation on screening for lipid disorders in children.

This recommendation statement was first published in Pediatrics Electronic Pages.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is redesigning its recommendation statement in response to feedback from primary care clinicians. The USPSTF plans to release, later in 2007, a new, updated recommendation statement that is easier to read and incorporates advances in USPSTF methods. The recommendation statement below is an interim version that combines existing language and elements with a new format. Although the definitions of grades remain the same, other elements have been revised.

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Importance: There is good evidence that children with lipid disorders (dyslipidemia) are at risk for becoming adults with lipid disorders.

Detection: For children with familial dyslipidemia, the group most likely to benefit from screening, use of family history in screening may be inaccurate because of variability of definitions and unreliability of information. Serum lipid levels are accurate screening tests for childhood dyslipidemia, although many children with multifactorial types of dyslipidemia would have normal lipid levels in adulthood. Fifty percent of children and adolescents with dyslipidemia will have dyslipidemia as adults.

Benefits of detection and early intervention:a Trials of statin drugs in children with monogenic dyslipidemia (defined below in clinical considerations) indicate improved total cholesterol (TC), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) measures. For children with multifactorial types of dyslipidemia, there is no evidence that diet or exercise interventions in childhood lead to improved lipid profiles or better health outcomes in adulthood.

Harms of detection and early treatment:Potential harms of screening may include labeling of children whose dyslipidemia would not persist into adulthood or cause health problems, although evidence is lacking. Adverse effects from lipid-lowering medications and low-fat diets, including potential long-term harms, have been inadequately evaluated in children.

USPSTF assessment: The USPSTF was unable to determine the balance between potential benefits and harms for routinely screening children and adolescents for dyslipidemia.

a. Critical evidence gap.

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  • Dyslipidemias are abnormalities of lipoprotein metabolism and include elevations in TC, LDL-C, or triglycerides or deficiencies of HDL-C. These disorders can be acquired or familial; monogenic dyslipidemias are related to genetic conditions such as familial hypercholesterolemia in some individuals. Multifactorial dyslipidemias are due to risk factors including environmental factors (obesity, diet) or currently unidentified genetic factors. This recommendation applies to all asymptomatic individuals from birth to age 20.
  • Because abnormal lipid levels have been strongly associated with the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) events in adulthood, and early identification and lipid-lowering intervention in certain populations of adults can prevent CHD events, much attention has been directed at screening individuals for dyslipidemia at young ages (e.g., childhood). Among children and adolescents, 3 groups may be identified through screening:
    1. Children with undiagnosed monogenic dyslipidemias such as familial hypercholesterolemia.
    2. Those with undiagnosed secondary causes of dyslipidemia.
    3. Those with multi-factorial dyslipidemia (polygenetic or related to risk-factors).
    However, the clinical health benefits shown in adults identified and treated for dyslipidemia have not been studied in children, making the role of screening children uncertain.
  • Children and adolescents with diabetes may be at especially high risk for dyslipidemia and cardiovascular events. Screening children and adolescents with diabetes for dyslipidemia has been recommended by other groups as a part of appropriate care for these children.
  • The use of family history as a screening tool for dyslipidemia has variable accuracy largely because definitions of a positive family history and lipid threshold values vary substantially. Screening using family history as defined by the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has been shown to have high rates of false negative results.
  • If clinicians choose to screen for dyslipidemia, the preferred screening tests are TC and HDL-C on nonfasting or fasting samples; calculating LDL-C requires fasting samples.
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  • Effectiveness of treatment interventions (diet, exercise, lipid lowering agents) in children with dyslipidemia (including multifactorial dyslipidemia) in improving health outcomes remains a critical research gap. Population-based screening studies or randomized controlled trials (RCTs) following children and adolescents into adulthood after treatment interventions will be necessary to assess universal lipid screening in childhood or adolescence.
  • Rising rates of childhood overweight may lead to a higher prevalence of dyslipidemia in childhood and adulthood. Continued tracking of dyslipidemia in all age groups will be important as the epidemiology of obesity evolves.
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Dyslipidemias are disorders of lipoprotein metabolism and include elevations in TC, LDL-C, or triglycerides, or deficiencies of HDL-C. TC levels increase from birth, stabilize at approximately 2 years of age, peak before puberty, and then decline slightly during adolescence. Normal values for lipids in children and adolescents are currently defined according to population distributions of lipid levels from the Lipid Research Clinics (LRC) Prevalence Study conducted in the 1970s.1 Dyslipidemia is commonly defined as TC >200 mg/dL and LDL-C >130 mg/dL; these values correspond to the 95% percentile observed in the LRC study. More recent studies, including the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, indicate that age, sex, racial differences, and temporal trends shift these population-based cut points.2

Although dyslipidemia in adults is an established risk factor for CHD based on good quality evidence from long-term prospective studies, the CHD risk attributable to dyslipidemia during childhood is unknown. Indirect evidence from the Bogalusa Heart Study, a long-term epidemiologic study of risk factors for CHD from birth through 31 years of age, showed a correlation between lipid levels and arterial fat deposition seen at autopsy; however, such evidence does not directly link childhood lipid levels to health outcomes.3 Epidemiologic studies in children establish a strong statistical association between childhood overweight and dyslipidemia.2 Other risk factors for dyslipidemia include an established family history for common familial dyslipidemias including familial hypercholesterolemia, familial combined hypercholesterolemia, familial defective apoprotein B, and familial hypertriglyceridemia. Secondary causes of dyslipidemia include diabetes, nephrotic syndrome, and hypothyroidism.2

The USPSTF did not find direct evidence that screening for dyslipidemia leads to improvements in CHD-related mortality or overall mortality; therefore it reviewed the evidence on accuracy of screening tests including family history, efficacy of treatment, and harms of screening and treatment in children.

Accuracy of Screening Tests

TC and HDL-C can be measured on nonfasting venous or capillary blood samples, LDL-C requires fasting samples, and direct LDL-C can be measured on nonfasting venous samples. At least two measurements are necessary to ensure that true values are within 10% of the mean of the measurements. Fair-quality evidence shows that a value of TC minus HDL-C above the 95th percentile is 88% to 96% sensitive and 98% specific for detecting LDL-C >130 mg/dL.4-6 Although use of family history presents one potential method to target serum lipid screening to a group of children and adolescents with higher risk for dyslipidemia, its use is limited. Family history is time-consuming to elicit accurately, it has been variably defined in the literature, and its use as a screening tool has been shown to miss substantial numbers (30% to 60% in general) of children with elevated lipids. Family history definitions vary substantially among studies as do lipid detection thresholds; those studies that show higher sensitivities (~77%) have low specificities (≤55%).2 Population-based estimates of the number of children requiring serum lipid testing based on positive family history may range from 25% to 55%, depending on definitions of family history and serum LDL cut-off values.

Accurate screening tests in children would be useful if childhood dyslipidemia correlated with adult CHD health outcomes or with adult dyslipidemia as an intermediate outcome and if treatment improved CHD outcomes. Serial correlations between lipid levels measured in individual children over time vary on the basis of the type of lipid level followed. On the basis of the evidence from 23 prospective cohort studies, correlations have been found to be higher for TC (r=0.38-0.78) and LDL-C (r=0.4-0.7), than for HDL-C (r=0-0.8) and triglyceride (r=0.1-0.58) levels, and good quality evidence indicates that approximately 40% to 55% of children with elevated TC and LDL will continue to have elevated lipids on followup into adolescence and early adulthood.2 No studies examine tracking of lipids in those with risk factors for dyslipidemia (e.g., childhood overweight).

Efficacy of Treatment

Treatment of childhood dyslipidemia has been shown to be effective in lowering lipid levels in select populations; however, no studies address the effect of treatment on childhood or adult health outcomes (e.g., CHD events). In those children with diagnosed monogenic dyslipidemia, a condition that has been associated with premature CHD events, no RCTs are likely be completed to provide health outcomes in untreated controls. In this population of children with familial monogenic dyslipidemias (familial hypercholesterolemia or familial combined hyperlipidemia), good quality evidence based on a meta-analysis of nine RCTs demonstrates the effectiveness of statins in reducing intermediate outcomes: TC and LDL (percent mean reduction [95% confidence limits] from meta-analysis of trials: 24.4% [19.5, 29.2] for TC, 30.8% [24.1, 37.5] for LDL, in 8 studies).2 Fair evidence based on two fair-quality trials shows that bile acid binding resins reduce lipid levels in children with monogenic dyslipidemia.7,8 RCTs of diet supplements (psyllium, oat, garlic extract, and sterol margarine) and advice show marginal improvements in lipids in children with monogenic dyslipidemia.2 There is fair quality evidence that dietary counseling is associated with minimal improvements in lipid levels in children with monogenic and multifactorial dyslipidemias; however, these improvements may not be sustained after counseling intervention ceases.9-15 There are no studies of physical activity interventions in those with monogenic dyslipidemia and fair-quality evidence in those with multifactorial dyslipidemia based on a meta-analysis of 6 trials that showed that physical activity interventions were associated with minimal to no improvement in lipid levels in children with multifactorial dyslipidemia (percent mean reduction [95% confidence limits] from meta-analysis of trials: 0% [-5.6, 5.6] for TC, and 3.1% [-7.7, 1.5] for LDL-C reduction in 4 studies).2

Harms of Screening and Treatment

There is poor-quality evidence on the adverse effects of screening. There are conflicting reports about behavioral difficulties in screened children and reports of parental noncompliance with recommendations for diet and followup. Studies have shown no increases in anxiety among screened children and adolescents.2 Fair-quality evidence on the harms of treatment is based on 81 controlled and non-controlled studies of treatment that reported a variety of adverse effects of drug, diet, exercise, and combination therapy in children and adolescents.2 Lipid-lowering agents have been shown to cause elevations in creatine kinase and liver function tests (statins), gastrointestinal side effects, and decreased absorption of vitamins and minerals (bile acid resins). The adverse effects of long-term use of lipid-lowering agents (e.g., >20 years) have not been studied. There have been 3 reports of growth retardation and nutritional dwarfing in children on unmonitored diets; however there are several reports of normal growth during monitored low-fat diet interventions.2 Physical activity interventions have had no reported harms in children without monogenic dyslipidemia, but an exaggerated blood pressure response was seen in children with monogenic dyslipidemias who were undergoing physical activity intervention.

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No professional organization recommends universal screening for dyslipidemia in children or adolescents. The NCEP Report of the Expert Panel on Blood Cholesterol Levels in Children and Adolescents recommends selective screening for children and adolescents with a family history of premature CHD or at least 1 parent with a high TC level (TC >240 mg/dL) in the context of regular health care. Optional cholesterol testing may be recommended in children and adolescents judged to be at higher risk independent of family history or parental hypercholesterolemia (e.g., those who are overweight or have high-fat diets).

The American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendations are based on this NCEP report and concur with its screening recommendations.16 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concurs with the NCEP recommendations for screening in adolescents.17 In 2003, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended performing targeted screening of fasting lipids in children >2 years of age with a family history of dyslipidemia or premature cardiovascular disease and in those children for whom family history is unknown and other risk factors are present.18 In a 2007 update, the AHA recommends, in addition, screening children who are overweight or obese.19

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Members of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force* are Ned Calonge, M.D., M.P.H., Chair, USPSTF (Chief Medical Officer and State Epidemiologist, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Denver, CO); Diana B. Petitti, M.D., M.P.H., Vice-chair, USPSTF (Senior Scientific Advisor for Health Policy and Medicine, Regional Administration, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Pasadena, CA); Thomas G. DeWitt, M.D. (Carl Weihl Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Division of General and Community Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH); Leon Gordis, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. (Professor, Epidemiology Department, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD); Kimberly D. Gregory, M.D., M.P.H. (Director, Women's Health Services Research and Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA); Russell Harris, M.D., M.P.H. (Professor of Medicine, Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC); Kenneth W. Kizer, M.D., M.P.H. (President and CEO, National Quality Forum, Washington, DC); Michael L. LeFevre, M.D., M.S.P.H. (Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Missouri School of Medicine, Columbia, MO); Carol Loveland-Cherry, Ph.D., R.N. (Executive Associate Dean, Office of Academic Affairs, University of Michigan School of Nursing, Ann Arbor, MI); Lucy N. Marion, Ph.D., R.N. (Dean and Professor, School of Nursing, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, GA); Virginia A. Moyer, M.D., M.P.H. (Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, TX); Judith K. Ockene, Ph.D. (Professor of Medicine and Chief of Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA); George F. Sawaya, M.D. (Associate Professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California, San Francisco, CA); Albert L. Siu, M.D., M.S.P.H. (Professor and Chairman, Brookdale Department of Geriatrics and Adult Development, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, NY); Steven M. Teutsch, M.D., M.P.H. (Executive Director, Outcomes Research and Management, Merck & Company, Inc., West Point, PA)**; and Barbara P. Yawn, M.D., M.Sc. (Director of Research, Olmstead Research Center, Rochester, MN).

*Members of the Task Force at the time this recommendation was finalized. For a list of current Task Force members, go to

**Dr. Teutsch was recused from the discussion and voting on this issue.

Contact the Task Force

Address correspondence to: Ned Calonge, M.D., M.P.H., Chair, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, c/o Program Director, USPSTF, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 540 Gaither Road, Rockville, MD 20850; E-mail:

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  2. National Cholesterol Education Program. Highlights of the report of the Expert Panel on Blood Cholesterol Levels in Children and Adolescents. Pediatr 1992;89(3):495-501.
  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Health care for adolescents. Washington, DC: American College of Obstreticians and Gynecologists; 2003.
  4. Kavey RE, Daniels SR, Lauer RM, et al. American Heart Association guidelines for primary prevention of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease beginning in childhood. Circulation 2003 Mar 25;107(11):1562-6.
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  9. Kwiterovich PO, Jr, Heiss G, Johnson N, Chase GA, Tamir I, Rifkind B. Assessment of plasma total cholesterol as a test to detect elevated low density (beta) lipoprotein cholesterol levels (type IIa hyperlipoproteinemia) in young subjects from a population-based sample. Am J Epidemiol 1982;115(2):192-204.
  10. Shea S, Basch CE, Irigoyen M, et al. Failure of family history to predict high blood cholesterol among Hispanic preschool children. Prev Med 1990;19(4):443-55.
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  14. Obarzanek E, Kimm SY, Barton BA, et al. Long-term safety and efficacy of a cholesterol-lowering diet in children with elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol: seven-year results of the Dietary Intervention Study in Children (DISC). Pediatr 2001;107(2):256-64.
  15. DISC Collaborative Research Group. Efficacy and safety of lowering dietary intake of fat and cholesterol in children with elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. The Dietary Intervention Study in Children (DISC). The Writing Group for the DISC Collaborative Research Group. JAMA 1995;273(18):1429-35.
  16. Shannon BS, Tershakovec AM, Martel JK, Achterberg CL, Cortner JA. Reduction of elevated LDL-cholesterol levels of 4- to 10-year-old children through home-based dietary education. Pediatr 1994;6(6 Pt 1):923-7.
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