There’s probably no greater public health issue than the long-term consequences of the childhood obesity epidemic. So the Wall Street Journal should be commended for digging into some of the important science behind this problem in a feature article in today’s paper. The author, Ron Winslow, is widely regarded as the best working journalist who regularly covers cardiovascular medicine. But I’m afraid the article fails to raise several key questions about the topic and therefore misses an opportunity to educate people about its complexities.
The article deals with the “growing concerns about the cardiovascular health of millions of children in the U.S. who are considered obese or overweight” and then focuses on one recent study published in Pediatrics that “suggests there is a simple way to assess a child’s arterial health with a calculation based on an often-overlooked component of cholesterol: triglycerides.” Winslow faithfully reports the main finding of the study, which is that the triglyceride to HDL ratio corresponds closely with arterial stiffness. A stiff vessel is a sign of “accelerated aging” and “likely raises the risk of dangerous outcomes relatively early in adult life,” writes Winslow.
Winslow notes that an NHLBI panel now recommends universal cholesterol screening for children between 9 and 11, but there is no mention that some experts disagree with this recommendation. Further, these screening tests focus on the measurement of LDL cholesterol. Winslow doesn’t discuss whether LDL would be equally effective as triglycerides and HDL at identifying children with stiff arteries. Winslow writes, reasonably, that high triglycerides and low HDL “are a hallmark reflection of the poor diets and sedentary lifestyles that researchers say are behind the wide prevalence of obesity among both children and adults,” but there’s a big gap between that association and concrete recommendations to measure HDL and triglycerides in children and, more importantly, to take actions based on these measurements.