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High BP in Kids May Be Less Common Than Thought


WebMD News from HealthDay

TUESDAY, Jan. 29 (HealthDay News) -- The number of U.S. kids with full-blown high blood pressure could be lower than previously thought, if new research findings are on the mark.

In a study of nearly 200,000 children aged 3 to 17 years, researchers found that only 0.3 percent met the standard for high blood pressure -- elevated readings at three consecutive doctor visits.

That stands in contrast to past studies, which have suggested that anywhere from 0.8 to 4.5 percent of American kids have high blood pressure.

But experts say the "correct" rate among U.S. kids is still unknown. And even if blood pressure is lower than earlier estimates, children should still have their blood pressure measured at routine checkups, said Dr. Stephen Daniels, an expert in pediatric high blood pressure who was not involved in the new study.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute both recommend that kids have yearly screenings for high blood pressure, starting at age 3.

"I don't think that should change," said Daniels, the chief pediatrician at Children's Hospital Colorado and head of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora. "I wouldn't want parents to get the message that their child doesn't need to have their blood pressure measured."

As for why the new figure is lower than past estimates, it's probably due to how the study was done, according to lead researcher Dr. Joan Lo, a research scientist with Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland.

The children in her study were from three different U.S. states, and all were visiting the doctor for routine "well-child" visits. Past studies have mainly been done in schools, in a single city or region. And some of those studies were run in urban areas, with a high proportion of black and obese kids -- both of whom are at increased risk of elevated blood pressure, Daniels noted.

Still, the true rate of high blood pressure among U.S. children remains unclear, according to Daniels.

"This new study is narrow in its own way," he said, noting that the kids involved had health insurance and got routine check-ups. The group was racially diverse, but Daniels said they may have been better off -- financially and health-wise -- than a random sample of U.S. kids would be.

The findings, which appear in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics, are based on 199,513 children and teens enrolled in three large health plans.

Almost 11,000 of those kids had an elevated blood pressure reading at their first doctor visit during the study period. But after repeat tests at their next two visits, less than 4 percent of them were ultimately diagnosed with high blood pressure.

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