When you think about high cholesterol and heart problems, a teenager usually doesn't come to mind. But more and more often, an unhealthy lifestyle as a teenager can lead to serious problems down the road.
"Yeah, he's tall and very thin," said Jackie Suarez as she described her son.
Suarez is like most busy moms juggling both work and a teenager.
"I am a working mom, so when I get home it's hard to make healthy dinners," she said.
Her 16-year-old son, Desmond is the picture of health. Even so, cardiologist Oscar Rosales with Memorial Hermann Heart and Vascular Institute said a lot more teens these days are turning up in his office with high cholesterol.
"They have now what is called invisible obesity and yet they carry elevated levels of cholesterol," said Dr. Rosales. Meaning, even outwardly thin children are at risk for high cholesterol due to poor diets and lack of exercise.
A report by the Center for Disease Control found that 20 percent of U.S. teens have high cholesterol, which puts them at risk for disease and pre-mature death. However, lifestyle changes can make a difference.
"Typically, it starts out with the food choices that they make, whether it's picking chicken tenders and fries over grilled chicken sandwich with a bowl of fruit - a healthier option," said Registered Dietician, Sarah Smith.
High levels of cholesterol are major factors for heart disease and stroke, which some research suggests, is directly linked to childhood.
"The older are getting healthier and the younger are getting higher cholesterol levels and unfortunately a very unhealthy life style," said Dr. Rosales.
He believes early detection and prevention can help children avoid serious health problems later in life. A blood test is the best way to determine the level of good and bad cholesterol in the body.
As for Suarez and her son, she is making changes; instead of eating out all the time she is preparing dinner at home more often.