Researchers who studied data from more than 20,000 children in West Virginia who had been screened for cholesterol is calling for universal screening, instead of limiting to children with family history of heart disease or high cholesterol.

Universal cholesterol screening would uncover more cases of the condition in children who, if left untreated, could develop heart disease later in life, according to the study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers at West Virginia University (WVU) in Morgantown found that about one percent of all fifth-graders had cholesterol levels that warranted drug treatment. But a third of those children would not have been identified under current guidelines because they don’t have relatives with heart disease or high cholesterol.

Among the children who would not have been screened, nearly 10% had elevated LDL cholesterol levels (above 130 mg/dL), and 1.7% had levels high enough (above 160 mg/dL) to warrant treatments and medications.

Currently, American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening for high cholesterol in children with a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol. Children whose parents do not know about their family history of heart disease are also recommended to get the test.

Dr. William Neal of West Virginia University in Morgantown, who led the new study, said that treating the children with cholesterol-lowering drugs would reduce the risk of developing heart problems later in life. Statin therapy may be used to lower LDL cholesterol levels in children.

The cost of universal screenings is not welcomed by all. Also experts disagree on whether it is necessary or beneficial. Dr. Michael L. LeFevre from U.S. Preventive Services Task Force questions the safety of statin treatment for children. He also said during an interview that he does not believe that starting a ten-year-old on cholesterol-lowering drugs will prevent heart disease 40 years.

Neal and the researchers believe that the universal screening would save a lot of money in the end if heart disease could be prevented. Neal said, "I have gradually become convinced that universal screening in children is not only preferable, but necessary.”