Childhood Obesity Driving Increase in High Blood Pressure

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Children, adolescents, and adults are experiencing a rise in cases of diabetes. But this is not the only health problem that children and adults share — high blood pressure has become common in children, probably because of increased obesity in youngsters.

Scientists say that parents and doctors are not aware of this problem, nor do they realize the seriousness of the potential consequences which include lasting damage to organs. Many times abnormally high blood pressure is not detected or included in a child's medical record since many times the medical community is not aware that it is a pressing issue, writes Jane E. Brody for The New York Times.

Medical guidelines explain that children's blood pressure should be tested every year beginning at age 3. For adults, a blood pressure reading of 120 over 80 millimeters of mercury is considered normal. But for adolescents, that measure would be labeled pre-hypertension, report doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital. A recent study in Philadelphia found that 20% of middle- and high-school athletes were obese and nearly 15% had high blood pressure.

Dr. Margaret Riley of the University of Michigan Medical School and Dr. Brian Bluhm of Integrated Health Associates in Ann Arbor, Mich., wrote in American Family Physician that in teens and pre-teens who were obese, over 30% of boys and 23 to 30% of girls have pre-hypertension or hypertension.

Still, in kids 18 and younger, doctors are missing the the condition of hypertension in most cases, according to Dr. Goutham Rao, chairperson of family and community medicine at University Hospitals of Cleveland, who contributed this information last month in the journal Pediatrics.

"In three-fourths of children with pre-hypertension and hypertension the condition is not detected," he said in an interview.

A 13-year-old boy in Pittsburgh had a blood pressure of 180 over 100, but the measurement was not noted in the young person's chart. There was no follow-up to determine why the blood pressure was so highly elevated and to prescribe a remedy, Dr. Rao said.

Approximately 7% of young people between the ages of 3 and 18 have high blood pressure, and the number seems to be growing, writes Reflejos. If a diagnosis is made, scientists do not know what the long-term consequences are of taking medication for decades. Some studies have found that half the cases resolve on their own. And to add to the complexity of the problem, "normal" blood pressure varies by body size, gender, age, and time of day.

Anxiety levels have to be considered as well. One study found that over half of the children who participated in the research experienced what is called "white coat hypertension" because of the stress of being in a doctor's office.

When blood pressure is above the 120/80 level for a prolonged period, the result can be strokes, heart attacks, kidney damage, and other problems.

Dr. Tray Hunley of Vanderbilt University Medical Center says hypertension in young people can lead to more health issues down the line, writes WKRN-TV.

"The incidence of hypertension in kids has paralleled the obesity epidemic… so about a third of obese kids will have hypertension — so as obesity has increased in the last mainly 20 years, there's been a rapid need for our services for treating kids with blood pressure elevation."

Dr. Hunley adds that a healthy lifestyle can often reverse the condition.

09 23, 2016
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