The recent study showing an association between higher blood pressure and more time spent watching television or using a computer can be considered just one more wakeup call for parents when it comes to hypertension in children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, about 5 percent of children have higher than normal blood pressure, and this condition can place children at risk of more health problems as adults.
Although high blood pressure is common among adults, the rate among young children and adolescents is rising. This increase is linked to the growing problem of childhood obesity. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reports that 17 percent of adolescents age 12 to 19 and 19 percent of children age 6 to 11 are overweight.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who are overweight are more prone to have hypertension as well as other chronic diseases. They note that good eating habits, along with regular physical activity is critical for preventing these serious health conditions.
The Academy also notes that if high blood pressure in children is not treated, it can become worse over time and lead to serious health problems in adulthood, including heart failure. That’s because the abnormal stress from the disease “gets a head start” and begins to do its damage to the heart and arteries, and subsequently to the kidneys, brain, and eyes, at a much earlier age.
The American Heart Association recommends that all children age three years and older have their blood pressure checked yearly. This is especially important if the child is overweight. Many children who have high blood pressure have no symptoms, although some may experience chest pain, headache, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and trouble with concentration.
Even if high blood pressure in children is treated with medications, the underlying cause of the hypertension—poor dietary habits, obesity, and/or lack of physical exercise—will likely continue into adulthood. Therefore helping children make lifestyle changes can go a long way toward promoting a healthier adulthood.
Parents can help avoid high blood pressure in their children by serving them a nutritious diet, encouraging daily physical exercise, keeping excess salt out of the diet, and ensuring their children maintain a healthy weight.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Heart Association