Kids’ Blood Pressure on the Rise

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The average life expectancy of Americans has been increasing as long as good statistics have been available to measure it. Sadly, some experts now believe this upward trend is about to reverse thanks in large part to the modern diet.1 Modern highly-refined and processed foods full of salt along with declining activity levels, are leading to increasing blood pressure and body fat stores in American children. We know that children with higher blood pressure and more body fat are likely to become adults with hypertension and type 2 diabetes. And we know that all things being equal, the sooner hypertension and type 2 diabetes develop in life, the shorter their life expectancy becomes.
A recent analysis of the NHANES data from 1963 through 2002 found that blood pressure in American children was trending down until 1988. However, since 1988, blood pressure has been on the rise in American children. The authors concluded that this increase was due in part to increasing body weight and particularly increased abdominal fat stores.2 Another reason blood pressure has been increasing in kids is the greater consumption of salt from foods produced by the commercial food industry. A study of children in the Great Britain looked at the relationship between salt intake derived from commercial foods and blood pressure in kids 4 to 18 years old. Salt intake was measured using a 7-day dietary record. The results of this study showed that children who consumed more salt from commercial food products had significantly higher blood pressure.3 While the variation in salt intake was rather modest in this study, it was sufficient to show that even small increases in salt intake result in higher blood pressure in children. It should also be noted that as people grow older they become more sensitive to the hypertensive impact of increasing salt intake.4
Bottom Line: The worldwide pandemic of higher blood pressure will promote earlier mortality from strokes, heart failure, heart attacks and kidney failure and reduce the quality and length of people’s lives.
By James J. Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN
1 N Engl J Med. 2005;352:1138-45
2 Circulation 2007;116:1392-1400
3 J Human Hyperten. September 2006;doi10.1038/sj.jhh.1002268
4 Ann Intern Med 2001;135:1019-28

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