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High Blood Pressure: Kids Can Have It, Too

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Although less than four percent of kids have high blood pressure, the incidence of the disease is growing. The results of two studies showed a three percent increase in childhood hypertension in just three years.

Researchers believe the dramatic rise in the disease is caused by two factors: the growing number of overweight children (one in three kids is either overweight or obese) and high blood pressure’s tendency to run in families.

Hypertension falls into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary hypertension occurs because of a person’s genetic risk and/or lifestyle, such as overeating and being physically inactive. Secondary hypertension develops as a result of the presence of some other disease or medical condition. In children, secondary hypertension is often caused by kidney or heart disease or sleep apnea.

Primary high blood pressure is the kind that’s on the rise in preteens and teenagers. While it’s still rare in infants and children younger than 10, more than 85 percent of hypertension in teenagers is primary.

Knowing your child’s risk for primary hypertension

Your pediatrician will take your child’s blood pressure as part of a regular doctor visit or annual physical and tell you if the reading is in the normal range given your child’s sex, age, and height. However, if your son or daughter has any of the risk factors known to contribute to primary hypertension in children, you may want to make an appointment with your pediatrician before your child’s next check up.

  • Overweight: If you’re child’s body mass index (BMI) is greater than 85 percent of children of the same age, height, and sex, he or she is considered overweight. Research has found that 30 percent of obese children (a BMI greater than the 95th percentile) have high blood pressure.

  • Inactive: Overweight and inactivity often go hand in hand. Your child needs at least an hour of physical activity each day to help prevent weight gain.

  • Family history: Nearly two-thirds of adults have high blood pressure. If you have a history of hypertension in your family, it may mean your child runs a greater risk of developing high blood pressure. In one study, researchers found that 86 percent of kids with primary hypertension also had family members with high blood pressure.

If your child is diagnosed with primary hypertension, your doctor’s recommended treatment will likely consist of a combination of weight reduction, increased physical activity, and diet changes. Medication is usually prescribed only if a child is severely hypertensive.

Teaching your child how to live a lower blood pressure lifestyle

As is the case with adults, a healthy diet and gets lots of exercise will help ensure your child’s blood pressure is kept under control.

  • Decrease salt and fat: A diet high in salt and saturated fat puts a strain on blood vessels and arteries at any age. Children shouldn’t have more than about 2,000 milligrams of salt each day and, like adults, kids should steer clear of saturated fats. Try cooking with more herbs and less salt. Also, limit the amount of fat your children get from chips and French fries. Instead, introduce them to healthier snack foods like nuts.

  • Increase fruits, vegetables, and whole grains: Children pack on pounds when their diet consists mostly of fried, fatty foods and refined sugars. To help your children maintain or reach a healthy weight, make sure they get most of their calories from fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Instead of sugary breakfast cereals, give them oatmeal with fresh fruit for sweetness. Trade white bread for whole grain. Instead of hamburgers, try chicken breast and cheese sandwiches.

  • Limit sedentary time: Children need fresh air and exercise. Doctors say children shouldn’t spend more than two hours a day watching television, playing video games, or using the computer for fun. Encourage your children to get up and get moving. If you can find an activity to do together, that’s even better. Play catch in the yard, ride bikes, skateboard, or just take a walk. An hour of movement a day can help keep high blood pressure away.

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