High Blood Pressure Increasing In Children
July 16, 2013

Increase In Blood Pressure Seen Among Adolescents

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Over the past 13 years, the number of children between the ages of 8 and 17 with high blood pressure has risen by 27 percent, according to a new study in the journal Hypertension.

The study authors said higher body mass and increased levels of sodium intake were to blame for the troubling rise.

"High blood pressure is dangerous in part because many people don't know they have it," said co-author Bernard Rosner, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "It's a very sneaky thing. Blood pressure has to be measured regularly to keep on top of it."

In the study, the research team examined over 3,200 children ages 8 to 17, from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III conducted from 1988 to 1994. The data from these children were compared to more than 8,300 from the next NHANES conducted between 1999 and 2008.

While considering factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, body mass, waistline and sodium intake, the team found that 19 percent of boys in the second NHANES survey had high blood pressure, up from 16 percent in the first survey. Girls with high blood pressure rose from 8 to 13 percent between the two surveys.

The child participants were from the general population, suggesting that many of them could be going untreated or undiagnosed for the condition, researchers said. They noted that the children could not be diagnosed with hypertension because that diagnosis requires three sequential high blood pressure readings. However, if the children were to be diagnosed with severe hypertension, a doctor is supposed to examine the child for possible kidney disease, heart defects or hormone disorders.

High blood pressure was also linked heavier weight and bigger waistlines in the study. One of the biggest connections was for sodium. Study researchers found that children with the highest sodium intake were 36 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than those with the lowest intake.

"There's been very little evidence to support an effect of salt on blood pressure in children, while in adults, the relationship between salt and blood pressure is well substantiated," co-author Dr. Bonita Falkner, a professor of medicine and pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University, told Medical Daily.

"Everyone expects sodium intake will continue to go up," Rosner said. "It seems there's been a little bit of listening to dietary recommendations, but not a lot."

Faulker added that as much as 80 percent of excess sodium intake comes from processed foods.

"It's hidden. You can't really taste it or feel it," she said.

Over 80 percent of children in both surveys had a daily sodium intake over 2,300 milligrams. The average American's daily sodium intake is around 3,400 milligrams - more than twice the limit recommended by the American Heart Association.

Experts recommend having more regular meals made from basic ingredients and limiting the amount of processed, high fat, high salt and high sugar foods. Instilling this type of diet in a young child could help to define their later eating habits, experts say.