A new study by the American Heart Association reveals that the risk for children and adolescents developing high blood pressure rose 27 percent over the last 13 years. Obesity and eating too much salt are cited as likely reasons why. The new research appeared in the AHA journal Hypertension.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and kidney failure and accounts for 350,000 preventable deaths in the United States annually.
“High blood pressure is dangerous in part because many people don’t know they have it,” said Bernard Rosner, Ph.D., lead author of the study and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, in a press release. “It’s a very sneaky thing. Blood pressure has to be measured regularly to keep on top of it.”
Researchers compared more than 3,200 children ages 8-17 in 1988-1994 to more than 8,300 children in 1999-2008. They used statistics from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Boys were more likely to have elevated blood pressure, but the rate increased more markedly in girls from the first study to the second.
More children were overweight in the second study, and both sexes, especially girls, had bigger waistlines.
African-American children had a 28 percent higher risk of elevated blood pressure than non-Hispanic white children.
Children whose body mass or waistline measurements in the top 25 percent for their age group were about twice as likely to have elevated blood pressure as those in the bottom 25 percent.
In both studies, children with the greatest sodium intake were 36 percent more likely than those with the lowest intake to have elevated blood pressure.
Dr. Tim Logemann, a cardiologist with Aspirus Cardiovascular Associates, isn’t surprised by the study’s findings.
“Obesity is growing and causes risk for hypertension and puts you at risk for all complications,” he said.
Dr. Logemann says parents must model healthy lifestyles to their children by providing healthy meals with lots of vegetables and incorporating physical activity. He recommends youth have their blood pressure taken at their regular pediatric check-ups.
Normal blood pressure for children depends on their age, sex and height, but for adults 20 and older, normal is less than 120/80 mm Hg.
The American Heart Association recommends an average person eats no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily, however the average American eats 3,400 mg of sodium. Consuming high amounts of sodium has been linked to high blood pressure. Studies show lessening sodium intake can lower blood pressure.
“Obesity is real and a crisis,” Dr. Logemann said. “All need to be aware of the risks and minimize carbohydrates, soda, candy, chips, etc. and start practicing a healthier lifestyle to include eating vegetables and staying physically active.”