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Adult High Blood Pressure Could Begin in Childhood
  • Posted April 2, 2024

Adult High Blood Pressure Could Begin in Childhood

The seeds of high blood pressure in adulthood might be sown in youth, a new study suggests.

Children and teenagers with excess weight were more likely to have high blood pressure in middle age, researchers report.

In fact, there's a linear relationship between adult high blood pressure and childhood overweight and obesity, researchers found.

The heavier a child is, or the more pounds they put on during puberty, the more likely they are to have high blood pressure as an adult, results show.

“Our results suggest that preventing overweight and obesity beginning in childhood matters when it comes to achieving a healthy blood pressure in later life,” said lead researcher Lina Lilja, a doctoral student with the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 1.3 billion adults 30 to 79 have high blood pressure, increasing their risk of strokes, heart attacks and kidney disease.

High body-mass index in adults is strongly tied to elevated blood pressure, but it's not clear whether excess weight in childhood contributes to this risk.

To learn more, researcher analyzed data on nearly 1,700 Swedish people born between 1948 and 1968. 

For these people, BMI readings were taken at age 7 to 8 and again at 18 to 20. Researchers compared this to blood pressure readings, systolic and diastolic, taken among the group at ages 50 to 64.

Systolic refers to the top number in a blood pressure reading, and refers to the amount of pressure in the arteries during a heart beat. Diastolic is the bottom number and refers to pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats.

For each one-unit increase in BMI in childhood, middle-aged men had a 1.3-point increase in systolic blood pressure and a 0.75-point increase in diastolic blood pressure.

Men also had a 1-point increase in systolic and 0.53-point increase in diastolic blood pressure for each one-unit increase in BMI during puberty, results show.

Similarly, middle-aged women experienced a 0.96-point increase in systolic and 0.77-point increase in diastolic blood pressure for each one-unit increase in puberty-related BMI.

However, there was no link in women between pre-pubertal childhood BMI and later high blood pressure.

The researchers will present their findings at the upcoming European Congress on Obesity, which takes place in Venice in mid-May.

“Although the differences in blood pressure are not very large, if blood pressure is slightly elevated over many years, it can damage blood vessels and lead to cardiovascular and kidney disease,” said researcher Dr. Jenny Kindblom from Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden.

Kindblom believes that excess fat in childhood could create low-level inflammation and blood vessel problems that promote the development of high blood pressure as a person ages.

“Children and teenagers living with overweight or obesity might benefit from targeted initiatives and lifestyle modifications to reduce the substantial disease burden associated with high blood pressure in later life from diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, and kidney damage,” Lilja said in a meeting news release.

Findings presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about childhood obesity.

SOURCE: European Association for the Study of Obesity, news release, March 31, 2024

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