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Blood pressure on the rise in kids: 7 tips every parent should follow

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Study finds rising blood pressure among children: 7 tips for parents

A new study shows children’s blood pressure levels are on the rise. The reason say study authors might be from higher rates of obesity, larger waist circumference and too much salt in the diet.

The finding means kids are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease that may not manifest until adulthood.

High blood pressure often undetected

According to background information from the new report, high blood pressure or hypertension is a risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney failure that accounts for 350,000 deaths each year that could be prevented.

Bernard Rosner, Ph.D., lead author of the study and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass explains high blood pressure can easily go undetected. "It's a very sneaky thing. Blood pressure has to be measured regularly to keep on top of it," Rosner said in a press release.

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He says people don’t know they have elevated blood pressure that should normally be less than 120/80 but can vary among children and teens according to weight, height and gender.

For their study, researchers compared blood pressure readings among 3,200 children ages 8-17 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III in 1988-1994 to over 8,300 in the study in 1999-2008.

The results showed:

  • Blood pressure rates were more elevated among girls, compared to boys in the study. However, boys were more likely to have elevated blood pressure.
  • More children were overweight – both boys and girls – in the second study, compared to the first. Girls especially had bigger waistlines.
  • Children with higher body mass index or larger waistlines for their age were fifty-percent more likely to have elevated blood pressure compared to those whose BMI was in the bottom 25-percent.
  • High salt intake was associated with a 36-percent higher likelihood of higher blood pressure compared to children whose sodium intake was the lowest.
  • African-American children had a 28-percent higher risk of having elevated blood pressure than white and non-Hispanic children.
  • Rosner says salt intake among children still remains high. He says there has been ‘some attention paid to dietary guideline for sodium intake, but “not a lot”.
  • More than 80-percent of children in the study consumed more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily. Fewer had an intake higher than 3, 450 milligrams. Rosner says salt intake is expected to continue to go up.

Most salt comes from restaurant meals and pre-packaged; pre-prepared meals from grocers. Most Americans consume twice the amount of sodium than recommended by the American Heart Association, which is 1,500 milligrams a day.

7 tips for parents to help children with healthy blood pressure

  1. Reading labels for salt content. Not all snacks are ‘healthy’ that are labeled as such. Hidden sources of sodium include MSG and anything with the word sodium attached to it (sodium benzoate and stabilizers) Even foods labeled “heart healthy’ can contain high levels of sodium, though they are lower in saturated fat.
  2. Understand that cheese, bread, breakfast cereals and even milk contain sodium that can all add up in a day.
  3. Limit your child’s time spent in front of the TV and computer to encourage more activity to help fight obesity. There is also evidence that allowing television and other electronic devices in your child’s bedroom can lead to excess snacking and interfere with quality sleep that is a known risk factor for metabolic dysfunction and weight gain.
  4. Keep your child’s regular ‘well-visits’ to the doctor. Ask your healthcare provider for information about your children’s body mass index (BMI). Intervening early for lifestyle changes leads to more success.
  5. Get rid of canned foods that are high in sodium. Cook fresh foods and focus on fruits for in-between meals snacks.
  6. Use herbs like garlic, rosemary, thyme and herb seasoning blends that can be healing for cooking instead of salt.
  7. Serve up whole foods. For instance, maple syrup has no sodium, but pancake ‘syrups’ are loaded with salt. You may pay more at the grocery store, but the rewards over the long run will save thousands of dollars in health care costs in addition to promoting quality life years for your children.

The new finding is published in the journal Hypertension.

Rosner said the analysis did not show most children ‘officially’ have hypertension. The study finding showed kids’ blood pressure readings among children rose 27 percent during a thirteen-year period. There are many ways parents can help keep children healthy. The new study suggests a large number of children may be heading for a lifetime of poor heart health from obesity, expanding waistlines and too much salt in the diet.