Childhood Obesity and Risk of Adult Hypertension
Even being overweight when young was found to double high blood pressure risk in long-term study
By Dennis Thompson
THURSDAY, Sept. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Obese children have a four times greater risk of having high blood pressure when they reach adulthood compared to normal weight kids, new research shows.
The study authors also found that overweight children had double the risk of high blood pressure, or hypertension, later in life.
"We've shown that the risk for hypertension starts in childhood," said study author Dr. Sara Watson, a pediatric endocrinology fellow at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University in Indianapolis. "That period is very important. There are changes in obese children that contribute to risk of cardiometabolic diseases." So-called cardiometabolic diseases are caused by high blood pressure, high blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and excess belly fat.
If left unchecked, high blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke.
Starting in 1986, the researchers tracked the development of over 1,100 healthy adolescents from Indianapolis. Doctors checked their height, weight and blood pressure twice a year, finding that about two-thirds were normal weight, while 16 percent were obese and 16 percent were overweight.
The researchers followed up this year with the now-adult study participants. About 26 percent of obese children had ended up with high blood pressure as adults, compared with 14 percent of overweight children and just 6 percent of normal weight children. The team was scheduled to report on its data Thursday at an American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans.
Watson said the increased risk for kids who are simply overweight is in some ways more troubling than the risk associated for obese children.
"The risk is double for the kids that are overweight," Watson said. "Right now, a lot of our focus is on obese children, but I think it's important when kids are in the overweight category to address them as well, because their risk is high, too."
The 27-year study is important "because there are relatively few studies that have been done looking at the long-term impact of childhood obesity on adult health," said Myles Faith, an associate professor of nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. "It takes a long time to see the development of disease, and following children over time is a mighty work. These long-term studies are a precious resource for science."
Families and pediatricians need to keep an eye on kids' body mass index (BMI) and take steps to help children control their weight, Faith and Watson said. BMI is a measurement based on height and weight. Parents should insist that pediatricians track their child's BMI, and be ready to participate in healthy eating and exercise.
"We have good evidence that family treatments for childhood obesity can improve BMI and can improve blood pressure in adolescents," Faith said. "Strategies involving the family can be helpful in reducing childhood obesity. It's important to think of this for the family unit as well."