It is widely known that obesity is harmful to children. But a new study suggests that kids who experience even more modest weight gain can suffer from high blood pressure.
Overweight and obese kids are almost three times as likely to have high blood pressure as their normal-weight peers, according to the findings of a study that followed more than 1,000 Indianapolis schoolchildren for more than four years.
It found that rates of hypertension and pre-hypertension spiked when kids crossed the 85th percentile for their body mass index, the boundary for being overweight.
Dr. Bonita Falkner, a physician and professor of pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University, said, until now, it was thought that body weight and blood pressure had a constant relationship, but this study suggests otherwise.
“It’s a pretty flat relationship until you get to the 85th percentile,” Falkner said, “and then the rates of high blood pressure triple.”
Falkner said the category “overweight” has long been largely ignored, seen simply as the area between normal and obese, but it is time for that to change.
“Even overweight children have a heightened risk for some of the consequences of obesity and it warrants more attention to preventing children from becoming overweight,” Falkner said.
She said recent studies have shown damage to the body from high blood pressure can begin in childhood and adolescence.
The threshold suggests that losing just a few pounds might reduce overweight kids’ risk of developing heart disease later in life.
“It’s very rare that you can get studies where you have multiple measurements in kids over a sustained period of time and many years,” said Dr. Sam Gidding, chief of cardiology at the Nemours Cardiac Center at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington. “What this article clearly shows is that there’s a very tight linkage between overweight and the development of future hypertension.”
Falkner and Gidding co-wrote an editorial that will accompany the study in the November edition of the journal Hypertension.