Higher Risk of High Pressure for Heavy Kids

Hypertension risk may be greater for children who are overweight but they may have no symptoms

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) While only a small percentage of children have high blood pressure, those who do may face serious health problems. Overweight children may be especially at risk yet show no signs.

An estimated 1 to 5 percent of young people have high blood pressure (hypertension). Since being overweight or obese increases the risk of high blood pressure in adults, it's possible that the same may be true for children.

According to recent research, young people who are heavy may be more likely to have high blood pressure, but the condition can be hard to detect because it often shows no symptoms.

"Have your blood pressure checked regularly, no matter your age."

Corinna Koebnick, PhD, researcher at Kaiser Permanente Southern California's Department of Research & Evaluation, and fellow investigators reviewed electronic health records of 237,248 children, ages 6 to 17 years.

These researchers particularly looked at results of the first four consecutive blood pressure measurements. They were recorded as part of the children’s routine medical care over 36 months. The researchers also examined each child’s body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of body composition (fat, muscle, bones) calculated from height and weight.

Dr. Koebnick and her team found that the prevalence of hypertension was 3.8 percent in moderately obese youth but shot up to 9.2 percent in extremely obese young people.

High blood pressure was recorded in only 0.9 percent of normal-weight children. For those considered underweight, the prevalence of hypertension was 0.6 percent.

According to the study, extremely obese youth were 10 times more likely to have hypertension than their normal-weight counterparts. The moderately obese were 4.35 times more likely to have the condition, and the overweight were twice as likely.

Overweight is defined as a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and lower than the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex. Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.

For example, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) measures, a 10-year-old boy with a BMI of 23 is considered obese. The same boy with a BMI of 21 falls in the overweight category. If he had a BMI of 18, he would be a healthy weight, and a BMI of 13 would make him underweight.

The authors of this study wrote that current values for overweight and obesity in children, as developed from charts by the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO), may be an effective way for identifying children at high risk for hypertension.

Children above the overweight limit are considered to be at risk for pre-hypertension, while those above the obesity threshold are considered to be at risk of hypertension, according to the researchers.

"High blood pressure in children is a serious health condition that can lead to heart and kidney disease," researcher David Cuan, MD, from the Department of Pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente Riverside Medical Center, said in a press release.

"While it is generally recommended that pediatricians measure blood pressure in children three years and older at every health care visit, this study shows the importance of screening overweight and obese young people in particular as they have an increased likelihood of hypertension," he said.

The CDC says that childhood obesity can have a harmful effect on the body in other ways, including:

  • Increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
  • Breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and asthma
  • Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort
  • Fatty liver disease, gallstones and gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn)
  • A greater risk for social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood

This study was published on October 10 in The Journal of Clinical Hypertension. Funding was provided by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and Kaiser Permanente Direct Community Benefit Funds.

Review Date: 
October 11, 2013
Last Updated:
October 11, 2013