What parents can do to prevent and treat the issue.
High blood pressure can put a person at greater risk for a range of cardiovascular issues – from heart attack to stroke. But if you think it’s only an adult problem, think again.
The number of kids who have high blood pressure and what’s called prehypertension, or borderline high blood pressure, has increased substantially in recent years. About 1 in 10 children and adolescents ages 8 to 17 has hypertension or is considered at risk for developing it, according to the latest survey and research data, which finds an estimated 1 to 3 percent of children and adolescents already have high blood pressure. The problem does seem to be leveling off somewhat, says Wei Perng, research assistant professor of nutritional sciences and epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “But it’s concerning that this is happening at all in children, because really hypertension is supposed to be a disease of later life,” she says. “The thought is [that] this is driven by the obesity epidemic that began in the ‘80s and really kind of spun out of control in the ‘90s [and] early 2000s.”
Perng led research published online this month that evaluated the link between rapid weight gain very early in life and a child’s risk of developing high blood pressure later. The study found that increases in body mass index, or BMI – a measure of body fat based on weight and height – in 0- to 6-month-olds and 2- to 3-year-olds was associated with higher systolic blood pressure. That’s the top number in a blood pressure reading, which measures pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. “Our findings suggest that more rapid gain in body mass index during the first 6 postnatal months and in the preschool years may lead to higher systolic blood pressure in mid-childhood, regardless of size at birth,” the researchers wrote in an American Heart Association journal Hypertension.
That’s significant because children who have high blood pressure are much more likely to face the issue later in life. “It’s entirely consistent with the trend in recent years identifying the rapid gain in weight in younger children – infants and toddlers – as a risk factor for the development of hypertension later on in adolescents and adulthood,” says Dr. Alan Lewis, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He adds that the research provides additional insight into the early age ranges where fat gain seems to be associated with a hike in blood pressure later on.