One in four Greek children aged up to 12 years old has high cholesterol according to a report by the Hellenic Pediatric Society. This rise in cholesterol levels is partly due to hereditary factors, but doctors warn that the main culprit is a poor diet. Foods that are low in vitamin content and rich in animal fats, as well as foods with high levels of preservatives, have made Greek children especially susceptible to developing heart diseases and have put them on the European map as the fattest children in the bloc. Arterial damage The president of the society, Athens University Pediatrics Professor Andreas Constantopoulos, noted at a recent press conference that arterial damage due to cholesterol can begin even in the womb. If a pregnant woman has high cholesterol and does not pay careful attention to her diet (by consuming plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses, fish and olive oil) during her pregnancy, she may put the embryo she is carrying at risk. Furthermore, bad dietary habits in the immediate family environment can lead to high cholesterol levels even in toddlers. While cholesterol levels can be controlled with drugs, they can also be kept in check by sticking to the traditional Mediterranean diet. «This,» explains Constantopoulos, «means that every household’s diet must contain vegetables, fruit and pulses.» The professor also notes that if a parent has had a heart attack before the age of 45, the family’s children should be put through specialized tests in order to ascertain whether they are susceptible to cardiac diseases or not. He also referred to the issue of meningitis at the press conference. Other infections The period from November to February normally sees the most cases of meningitis, mainly because people spend more time in enclosed, crowded spaces. Constantopoulos warns that both doctors and parents have to be on the alert for the early symptoms of the infection. The first sign is high fever and children must be rushed to the doctor or to a hospital if the fever persists or if it is accompanied by a rash (normally pea-sized spots). Parents should also be alerted if children display irritability or tiredness after the fever has dropped. The professor explained that as children often fall ill and display high fevers when they are attending daycare, their parents should not get too concerned if their glands become swollen every once in a while because this simply means that their immune systems are battling germs.