A study done by researchers at Harvard that examined data on over 3,200 kids ages 8-17 found that high blood pressure in this age group increased by more than 27 percent in a 13-year period. The researchers also found that larger waistlines positively correlated with higher blood pressure.
According to the CDC, about 1 out of every 6 American children are obese. On a positive note, this number has fallen slightly in recent years. Ensuring that children have normal blood pressure levels is important because those with high blood pressure are at risk for developing other serious conditions at a young age, such as diabetes, thickened arteries, heart disease, and stroke.
Complications in Determining Normal Blood Pressure in Children
In the past, guidelines for determining whether or not a child’s blood pressure is “normal” have been complicated. Doctors and pediatricians used charts based on gender, height and age to determine the range of a child’s blood pressure. “Normal” becomes even more difficult to determine for adolescents when their level of sexual maturity also plays a part. Those who have completed puberty tend to have higher blood pressure levels. Getting accurate blood pressure readings for young children can also be complicated because they are often moving a lot, crying, or throwing temper tantrums. This can raise blood pressure considerably. There’s also something called “white coat” hypertension. Some children have high levels of anxiety in doctor’s offices which can falsely result in a high blood pressure reading.
Recently, two pediatric specialists published guidelines in the journal Hypertension that give people a simple way to monitor children’s blood pressure. Children ages 3 to 11 should have a blood pressure level of less than 110/70 mm Hg and adolescents should have blood pressure no higher than 120/80 mm Hg. Anything above these numbers is a cause for concern, and lifestyle modifications should be made.
Why Might Children Have High Blood Pressure?
Diets high in processed foods that contain high levels of sodium and sugar are a significant contributing factor. Studies suggest that processed sugar itself plays a major role. One particular experiment done by researchers at the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Touro University found that not eating processed sugar for just 9 days significantly decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels in obese children. The kids were allowed to keep their regular diets – eating things like pizza, bagels and popcorn. They did everything the same except removed processed sugar from their diets. No or low added-sugar processed foods were still allowed. After just 9 days, their cholesterol fell by 33 points and their blood pressure dropped by an average of 5 points. The results were consistent from child to child. One of the researchers involved in the study said he had never before seen such striking results in human studies.
Sodas A High Source of Processed Sugars
When Blood Pressure is a Sign of a Bigger Problem
In rarer cases, high blood pressure in children could be a sign of another more serious problem, such as an endocrine disorder, kidney disease or other issues. Some signs that there might be a problem contributing to high blood pressure besides diet and lifestyle factors include:
- The child is under the age of 10
- The child had a sudden unexplained increase in blood pressure
- Blood pressure is dramatically higher than the normal rate
Lowering the Risk of High Blood Pressure
The bottom line is, in order to ensure your child has a low blood pressure, try to give your child as little processed food as possible, and on those busy days when cooking dinner seems impossible, at least make sure the food they are eating has no processed sugar. Sugar comes in many forms, including high fructose corn syrup, cane syrup, fructose, brown rice syrup and others. Also make sure your kids are getting some form of exercise. If you have any doubts about what to feed your child or have questions about blood pressure, talk to your family doctor or pediatrician.