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All kids should have cholesterol tests: study


4 Star

All kids should have cholesterol tests: study

Our Review Summary

Yet there was still a key oversight. The lead sentence implies that more thorough screening would lead to improved health outcomes, even though the study did not examine that question. On the other hand, this story contains the strongest independent comment pointing out the lack of evidence about the effects of statin treatment on children who may have elevated cholesterol levels, but do not have heart disease.

It would be an interesting research project to have news consumers read all three stories we reviewed and to test their comprehension.


Why This Matters

Testing for cholesterol or other risk factors is useful only when it helps to reduce disease. We hope readers got the point that the evidence is sketchy and that statin treatment in kids is controversial.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story says universal screening would be expensive, but it does not provide any dollar amounts. Cost is clearly relevant to the story. The researchers blame the lack of health care insurance for the high proportion of parents and grandparents of these children who have never had a cholesterol test. The story does not address the issue of how families would pay for ongoing treatment if doctors prescribed it.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The lead sentence of this story says tens of thousands of children would benefit from cholesterol-lowering treatment if only more of them had their cholesterol levels checked. Readers may not see the comment in the bottom half of the story saying that there is no evidence that such treatment of children prevents heart disease later in life. Again, we wish those statements had been juxtaposed for emphasis or that the story had been restructured to clearly indicate the difference of opinion on evidence. Instead, the study authors get the last word, driving home the point once more about the "prudence" of universal screening, so we’re going to rule this criterion unsatisfactory.  We could have done that with the disease-mongering category instead.  The story should be dinged for this issue in some place or another. 

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The story points out that cholesterol-lowering drug treatment in children is controversial and the safety of such treatment has not been studied in children. However, the story does not mention any of the specific harms of statin treatment that have been identified in studies of adults.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


The story reports that the results are based on data from screening more than 20,000 school children in West Virginia. However, it does not discuss whether the results from this one state can be applied to the nation as a whole. The story also includes a clear statement from an independent expert that points out that there is no evidence that treating high cholesterol in children prevents heart disease later in life, thus helping readers to distinguish between a lab test result (elevated cholesterol) and an actual health outcome (heart disease.)

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


This was a mixed bag in and of itself. The story includes a quote from an expert saying there is no evidence that drug treatment of children with high cholesterol prevents heart disease, but the lead of the story says tens of thousands of children “may benefit from cholesterol-lowering medication… U.S. doctors said.” We wish those statements had been juxtaposed for emphasis. Nonetheless, the USPSTF expert’s perspective was necessary and helpful.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The journal Pediatrics stated that the study authors did not report any relevant financial interests. The story did include comments from an independent expert.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story includes an expert who argues against universal cholesterol screening for children. It also points out that lifestyle changes would be part of the treatment considered for children who have elevated cholesterol.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

The availability of cholesterol screening is not at issue.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Applicable

The novelty of cholesterol screening and treatment is not at issue here.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


The story does not appear to be based on a news release.

Total Score: 6 of 8 Satisfactory


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