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High Body Mass Index Associated with Increased Risk of Hypertension in Children

A new study emphasizes the importance of strategies to address excessive weight gain and obesity beginning as early as childhood.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a condition that can cause serious damage to the heart and blood vessels if sustained over long periods of time.

In adults, hypertension is typically defined as a resting blood pressure that is persistently over 140/90 mmHg.

If not controlled, it can increase the risk of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.

The chances of developing hypertension are known to be significantly greater for individuals who are overweight or obese.

A recent study shows that this correlation holds true even among children and adolescents. The study examined the medical records of approximately 100,000 children between the ages of 3 and 17 years across healthcare systems in Minnesota, Colorado, and California.

Researchers identified patients who had had an increase in their body mass index (BMI, or height-to-weight ratio), and then looked to see whether any corresponding increases in the patient’s blood pressure (BP) readings had occurred during the same period of time.

The results indicate that even among children, the risk of developing hypertension is greater among individuals who are obese.

In this study, obesity was defined as having a BMI in the 95th to 98th percentile, and those in the 99th percentile and above were considered extremely obese.

Over a three-year period, 0.3% of the children in the study developed hypertension.

However, a disproportionate number of new cases occurred among obese children. In fact, obese children and adolescents in the study were two times more likely than healthy-weight children to develop hypertension.

For extremely obese children, the risk of developing hypertension was more than 4 times that of healthy-weight children.

The study also showed a strong overall correlation between increases in BMI and increases in blood pressure generally.

While hypertension appeared in this study to develop only among children in the obese or extremely obese categories, even children who became overweight, without becoming obese, also showed a general tendency toward an increase in blood pressure.

The authors of the study interpret these results to underscore the need for early intervention to prevent excessive weight gain and obesity.

Parker ED, Sinaiko AR, Kharbanda EO, et al. Change in Weight Status and Development of Hypertension. Pediatrics. 2016;137(3):e20151662

Written by Linda Jensen

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