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Report: Elevated Blood Pressure Increasing Among Children, Adolescents

Higher body mass, larger waistlines, and excess sodium may be the reasons (July 15)

The risk of elevated blood pressure (BP) among children and adolescents rose 27% during a 13-year period, according to new research published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Hypertension.

A higher body mass, larger waistlines, and eating excess sodium may be the reasons for the elevated BP readings, researchers said. According to the AHA, hypertension is a risk factor for stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure — accounting for approximately 350,000 preventable deaths a year in the U.S.

In adults aged 20 years and older, BP should normally be less than 120/80 mm Hg. However, among children and teens, BP norms vary according to age, sex, and height.

While the researchers noted “elevated” readings, the children could not be called hypertensive because BP readings must be high three times in a row for an official diagnosis.

Researchers compared more than 3,200 children aged 8 to 17 years in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III in 1988–1994 with more than 8,300 in NHANES in 1999–2008. They accounted for differences between the two groups in age, sex, race/ethnicity, body mass, waistline, and sodium intake.

The researchers found:

  • Boys were more likely to have elevated BP, 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.
  • Children whose body mass or waistline measurements were in the top 25% for their age group were about twice as likely to have elevated BP compared with children with measurements in the bottom 25%.
  • African-American children had a 28% higher risk of elevated BP than non-Hispanic white children.
  • In both studies, children with the greatest sodium intake were 36% more likely than those with the lowest intake to have elevated BP.

Source: AHA; July 15, 2013.

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