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Kids' Checkups Should Include Cholesterol, Depression Tests, Doctors Say

Posted On : Mar 04, 2014

By Serena Gordon

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Feb. 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors should test middle school-age children for high cholesterol and start screening for depression at age 11, according to updated guidelines from a leading group of U.S. pediatricians.

Doctors should also test older teens for HIV, the AIDS-causing virus, the revised preventive-care recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics say.

The new screening schedule provides "the recommended content for a well-child visit," said Dr. Joseph Hagan, co-editor of the guidelines. "Some changes are small, some will get people's attention."

The changes attempt to address several pressing health issues affecting U.S. families today. The nation's obesity epidemic means that children are developing high cholesterol levels -- a risk factor for heart disease -- at earlier ages. And depression is linked to higher risk for teen suicides and murder.

"One in five kids will, at some point in time, meet the criteria for depression," said Hagan, a professor in pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

Here are the most significant changes to the guidelines, published online Feb. 24 in the journal Pediatrics:

Depression screening at ages 11 through 21. If depression seems likely after asking suggested questions, doctors should assess its severity and make appropriate referrals to a social worker or psychologist for further evaluation and treatment. In some cases, a pediatrician might prescribe antidepressants, said Hagan.

The key question to ask parents of a child diagnosed with depression and suicidal thinking is if they have firearms in the home. "If the answer is yes, you have to ask parents to please remove the firearms to someone else's home," he said. "Do not try to lock them up. Or keep the ammunition separate from the gun. A smart, determined adolescent will get to them."

Cholesterol screening between ages 9 and 11. Hormonal changes make it difficult to get an accurate cholesterol reading during adolescence, so the doctors' group recommends screening before puberty's onset.

Lifestyle changes, rather than medication, usually will be recommended to control elevated cholesterol levels, thus reducing potential heart risks, Hagan said. These include eating healthier foods and getting more exercise. A cholesterol screen at this age also can catch cholesterol conditions that are passed down from parents, Hagan said.

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