Vol. 11, No. 3, 2005 Page 2


Many doctors recommend limiting the amount of fat and cholesterol consumed by young children, in order to protect their cardiovascular health. New research, however, suggests that children and teens with low cholesterol levels are at increased risk for significant behavior problems.

Jian Zhang and colleagues analyzed the serum cholesterol levels of 4,852 children between the ages of 6 and 16, all participants in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), and evaluated their psychosocial development. After adjusting for family socioeconomic status, maternal marital status and education, the adequacy of the children's nutrition, and their academic performance, the researchers found that non-African-American children with serum total cholesterol concentrations below the 25th percentile were nearly three times as likely to have been suspended or expelled from school as those with total cholesterol levels at or above the 25th percentile. The researchers found no association between low cholesterol and school suspensions or expulsions in African-American children.

Zhang et al. note that the most common reason for school suspension or expulsion is physical aggression, and say their findings are consistent with other studies linking low serum cholesterol levels to aggressive behavior in adults and nonhuman primates. In addition, they say, "low total cholesterol has been associated with the onset of conduct disorder during childhood among male criminals." They note that cholesterol and fats influence brain function and behavior by modifying cell membranes and affecting the production and use of neurotransmitters. In particular, they note, research indicates that low cholesterol may lead to reduced serotonin levels, which in turn are linked to impulsive behavior and aggression.

The researchers conclude that among non-African-American children, "low total cholesterol may be a risk factor for aggression or a risk marker for other biologic variables that predispose to aggression."


"Association of serum cholesterol and history of school suspension among school-age children and adolescents in the United States," Jian Zhang, Matthew F. Muldoon, Robert E. McKeown, and Steven P. Cuffee, American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 161, No. 7, 2005, 691-99. Address: Jian Zhang, 4770 Buford Highway, MS K-24, Atlanta, GA 30341, bvw2@cdc.gov.

Return to:
[Author Directory] [Front Page] [Issue Index] [Subject Index] [Title Index]