Even modest weight gain above the average puts kids at risk for high blood pressure, new research shows.
“Hypertension during youth tracks into adulthood and is associated with cardiac and vascular organ damage," said lead study author Corinna Koebnick of Kaiser Permanente Southern California. "Since the organ damage can be irreversible, preventing hypertension in our young people is critically important.”
Koebnick said the new study findings show the effects of even a few extra pounds.
The researchers studied electronic health records of more than 800,000 Southern California children who were 3 to 17 years of age between 2008 and 2015.
The investigators compared body mass index (BMI) — an estimate of body fat based on height and weight — at the outset and at a five-year follow-up. They also determined who had high blood pressure.
The research team grouped the kids by average weight: low body weight (5th through 39th percentile); medium body weight (40th through 59th percentile); high body weight (60th through 84th percentile).
Compared to youths in the medium range of average weight, the risk of developing high blood pressure within five years was 26% higher for youths at the high end of the average weight range.
Every BMI unit gained per year added 4% to their risk, the study authors noted.
The rate of high blood pressure was higher among boys than girls and among youth on government-subsidized health plans, the findings showed.
“This study underscores the need for medical professionals to reevaluate how we correlate and educate about health risks across the spectrum of weight in growing children,” said senior study author Dr. Poornima Kunani. She is a pediatrician and researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Manhattan Beach Medical Office, in California.
“Obesity may be the most important risk factor for hypertension during childhood," she said in a Kaiser Permanente news release.
Kunani urged parents to talk to their pediatrician to see if their child is at risk for high blood pressure and other preventable medical conditions related to obesity.
“They can help you with strategies for developing habits to keep your child healthy through adulthood,” Kunani said.
The study findings were published online March 14 in JAMA Network Open.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on child and teen body mass index.
SOURCE: Kaiser Permanente, news release, March 14, 2023