Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Children's blood pressure levels climbing: study


As health officials struggle to control the growing rate of childhood obesity in the US, children and adolescents' blood pressure levels have been climbing, a new study finds.

The trend, measured from 1988 to 2000, could foreshadow a population of adults at greater risk of heart disease, the researchers said.

"It's important not so much for the health of these kids during childhood, but because we know from long-term follow-up studies that higher blood pressure in adolescence tracks into adulthood" said Dr. Jeffrey Cutler, senior scientific adviser in the division of epidemiology and clinical applications at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and an author of the paper.

"It has a significant impact on what we expect for rates of hypertension as these kids get older," Cutler added.

The researchers attributed the increasing levels in part to the increase in the percentage of overweight children and adolescents.

The study, published Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, compared the results of two nationwide surveys, from 1988 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2000. More than 5,500 children aged between eight and 17 took part.

From 1988 to 2000, the average systolic blood pressure, the higher number in a blood pressure reading, reflecting pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts, rose to 106mm of mercury, from 104mm. Diastolic pressure, the lower number, representing the pressure between beats, increased to 61 from 58.

Mexican-American and black children, the report found, had average readings that were 2 to 3 points greater than those of whites. An increase of 1mm to 2mm in systolic pressure, Cutler said, means a 10 percent greater risk of hypertension as a young adult.

Dr. Marc Jacobson, director of the Center for Atherosclerosis Prevention at Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park, New York, who was not involved with the study, said, "I expect that we would see similar findings for cholesterol, triglycerides and any other risk factor that we look at."

In recent years, pediatricians and cardiologists have been calling for more diligent efforts to rein in childhood obesity. One in six people ages 6 to 19 is overweight, and experts say an expanding waistline puts children at greater risk of developing problems like diabetes and asthma, as well as high blood pressure.

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