Is your child at risk for high blood pressure?

More children these days are being diagnosed with hypertension, which can put them at risk for serious health problems.

  • A recent review published in JAMA Pediatrics showed that childhood hypertension increased 75-79 percent, from 2000 to 2015.
  • Children who have hypertension are more likely to have health problems, such as heart disease, later in life,.
  • You can reduce your child’s risk of hypertension with healthy lifestyle and diet choices.

[4 MIN READ]

As adults, we’re often told to watch our blood pressure — eat right, exercise often and stress less. And we all know that high blood pressure (hypertension) can lead to some serious health problems, like heart attacks and stroke.

But it’s not only adults who are affected by high blood pressure. Recent studies show that more children — yes, children — are at risk for developing hypertension.

The main culprit behind this trend? Obesity.

Don’t panic. It’s more likely that your child is healthy and has a low risk for these health problems. Nevertheless, some changes to your child’s diet and activities can help reduce any risk, and ensure they live a healthy life into adulthood.

An alarming trend

A recent review published in JAMA Pediatrics showed an increase of childhood hypertension over the last couple of decades. According to the review, which looked at 47 studies, childhood hypertension increased at a relative rate of 75-79 percent, from 2000 to 2015. The researchers also said that hypertension was more common in overweight and obese children.

But childhood hypertension isn’t a brand new problem. In fact, a study published in American Family Physician in 2012 said that 3.4 percent of children and adolescents (age three to 18) had prehypertension, and 3.6 percent had hypertension. Obesity is strongly related. 

Not surprisingly, as hypertension has increased in younger populations, so has obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the percentage of obese children and adolescents has more than tripled since the 1970s. A 2015-2016 study showed that one in five children age six to 19 were obese.

Reducing your child’s risk

While high blood pressure may not cause immediate problems, consistent high blood pressure can damage arteries and organs and lead to problems like heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure and stroke.

Although obesity is the main risk factor for childhood hypertension, having a family history of hypertension and exposure to secondhand smoke has also been shown to increase risk.

Although obesity is the main risk factor for childhood hypertension, having a family history of hypertension and exposure to secondhand smoke has also been shown to increase risk. With that in mind, it’s important to help your child maintain a healthy, active lifestyle and to seek support from your pediatrician if you are concerned about their weight or body mass index (BMI).

Keep these tips in mind for a healthy weight:

Create a balanced plate

A well-balanced diet is an essential part of a healthy childhood. When preparing meals for your child, make sure they include plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (like chicken and fish) and nonfat dairy. You can use this healthy eating plate as a guide.

Need inspiration? Bento boxes are a fun way to give your child a balanced meal without overeating. Use these compartmentalized lunch boxes to dole out healthy portions of whole wheat pasta salad, guacamole, carrot sticks, nuts and berries.

Cook more food at home

Takeout and prepared foods are often loaded with sodium and added sugars. Both can contribute to clogged arteries and obesity when consumed often.

  • Instead of searching for frozen meals and packaged snack food, try these healthy meal prep tips
  • If you do have to buy pre-made food, try to make a habit of reading the nutrition labels to look for added sodium and sugars.
  • When possible, aim for items labeled “no added sugar” or “low sodium.”

Add some banana

Foods that have potassium, like bananas, have been shown to help lower blood pressure. Try adding bananas to cereal or oatmeal, smoothies or a bowl of yogurt and granola.

If your child isn’t a fan of bananas, you can try other potassium-rich foods like avocados, apricots, cantaloupe, oranges, raisins or tomatoes.

Get up and move

Regardless of age, research has shown that exercise can help reduce blood pressure. For adolescents and school-aged children, the CDC recommends at least 60 minutes of activity a day. Activity can not only help keep their blood pressure at bay, it has also been shown to benefit brain health.

If you don’t think your child is getting 60 minutes of activity at school, make sure they get some in before sitting down to homework or play video games. 

If you don’t think your child is getting 60 minutes of activity at school, make sure they get some in before sitting down to homework or play video games. You can also try these fun and active family activities, or consider finding local kids’ sports teams or playgroups.

Kick the smoking habit (yourself)

Research has shown that secondhand smoke can increase a child’s risk of hypertension, whether they are exposed to the smoke in the womb or in the home. If you are pregnant or have children at home, it is vital for you to quit smoking as soon as possible — it can help improve your health as well as your child’s.

Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting. You can also get support through a Providence smoking cessation class in Oregon or Southwest Washington, or take advantage of Providence’s online resources.

Seek help when you need it

If you’re concerned about your child’s weight or risk for hypertension, talk to your pediatrician before it’s too late. You may also want to consider meeting with a registered dietitian who can help develop a healthy eating plan. Together, you can find ways to keep your whole family healthy and reduce risks for health problems down the line.

Find a doctor

If you need advice on how to help your child keep their heart healthy, talk to your pediatrician. You can find a Providence cardiologist using our provider directory. Or, you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.

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Resources:

5 free (and fun) ways to stay fit with your family

10 tips for becoming a healthy meal prep expert

Navigating the 3 whites: Sodium, sugar and refined grains

Is your child at risk for high blood pressure? Learn how to keep your whole family healthy and prevent future #heath problems. @psjh 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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