New research has linked obesity in childhood with a 4-fold increased risk of developing high blood pressure as an adult. Children classified as overweight but not obese had double the risk, according to the findings.
The data come from a study that tracked growth and blood pressure in 1117 children and adolescents in Indianapolis for 27 years beginning in 1986. Overall, 68% of kids in the study were normal weight, 16% were overweight, and 16% were obese. Children and adolescents whose body mass index is in the top 15% are considered overweight, but the top 5% qualify as obese. As adults, 10% of all the study participants were diagnosed with high blood pressure, researchers reported today at the American Heart Association High Blood Pressure Research 2013 Scientific Sessions in New Orleans.
The investigators found that 6% of normal-weight children, 14% of overweight children, and 26% of obese children developed high blood pressure as adults. The findings contribute to a growing body of evidence suggesting that heart disease may begin in childhood, said Sara E. Watson, MD, study author and pediatric endocrinology fellow at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University in Indianapolis.
“It is important that pediatricians counsel patients on the risk of high blood pressure associated with overweight and obesity, and stress that a healthy diet, including reducing salt intake and [participating in] exercise, may help reduce this risk,” Watson said in a statement.
The same study of Indianapolis children and adolescents also showed that children who have at least 1 high blood pressure reading are about 3 times more likely to develop the condition as adults than those with normal readings.
Among children who didn’t have high blood pressure readings, 8.6% developed the condition as adults. The rate increased to 18% among kids with 1 high reading and to 35% among those with 2 or more high readings. As adults, 59% of the study participants who developed high blood pressure had been overweight or obese during childhood.
The investigators said that an occasional increase in a child’s blood pressure doesn’t warrant treatment, but it does justify monitoring those children more closely.