The Pressure is Rising for Kids

Elevated blood pressure is on the rise among children and adolescents

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) "Go outside and play." That age-old advice for kids has its health benefits and may be more important than ever as unhealthy behaviors among children continue to rise.

In a large new study of children ages 8 to 17, researchers found this age group was more likely to have elevated blood pressure compared to children 13 years ago.

These researchers noted excessive weight and eating too much salt are likely culprits in causing these unhealthy blood pressure levels.

"Encourage your children to exercise regularly."

Bernard Rosner, PhD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, led this investigation looking at responses from 8,300 children on National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999-2008.

Dr. Rosner and his team compared the more current responses to results from 3,200 children who completed the NHANES in the 1988-1994 period.

The risk of elevated blood pressure among children and adolescents climbed 27 percent during a thirteen-year stretch.

The researchers underscored that this risk was for "elevated" readings, not for hypertension (high blood pressure). The children could not be labeled as hypertensive because blood pressure readings must be high three times in a row to be labeled as such.

"High blood pressure is dangerous in part because many people don’t know they have it," said Dr. Rosner in a press release. "It’s a very sneaky thing. Blood pressure has to be measured regularly to keep on top of it."

Sarah Samaan, MD, cardiologist and physician partner at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas, told dailyRX News, "The 27 percent rise in blood pressure should serve as a major wake-up call to parents, schools, food manufacturers and restaurants. High blood pressure is a major contributor to strokes, heart failure, heart attacks and kidney failure. We are already seeing all of these problems occurring in more younger adults than ever before."

Among the highlights of this study, the researchers found:

  • Elevated blood pressure was more likely among boys, but girls had a significantly higher rate hike from the first study to the second.
  • More children were considered overweight in the second study. Both sexes had larger waistlines. Girls especially showed an increase.
  • Compared to white children (who were non-Hispanic), African-American children had a 28 percent higher risk of elevated blood pressure.
  • In both studies, children eating the most salt were 36 percent more likely than those with the lowest intake to have elevated blood pressure.

Many studies have linked excessive salt intake to high blood pressure.

The American Heart Association (AHA) points out that Americans on average consume more than twice the daily recommended amount of salt, which is 1,500 milligrams or less.

More than 80 percent of children in both studies had a daily sodium (salt) intake greater than 2,300 milligrams.

The AHA says that about two-thirds of salt consumption comes from store-bought foods and about a quarter comes from restaurant offerings.

Cutting back on salt can lower average systolic (top number) blood pressure by 1.2 mm Hg and average diastolic (bottom number) pressure 1.3 mm Hg, according to the AHA.

Dr. Samaan added, "The solution — a healthy diet, regular exercise, and weight management — is not that complicated, but it's critical that parents take their roles as nurturers and providers seriously enough to make a real difference. And it's also imperative that our schools do not continue to enable a lifestyle that is counterproductive to good health."

This study was published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

The National Institutes of Health funded the study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 14, 2013
Last Updated:
July 29, 2013