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Blood Pressure Rising Among Children

The next time you hear folks talking about their blood pressure, take a look. They may be kids.

Yes, children can have high blood pressure, and experts say the number of kids with the problem is on the rise. "We estimate about 10 percent of children between 2 and 18 have high blood pressure," says pediatric heart specialist Reginald Washington, M.D., co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Obesity. "A lot of these kids have not even been diagnosed."

High blood pressure has joined type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol on a list of ailments that once struck only adults but now afflict children. "We believe we'll see heart disease and stroke at earlier ages if we can't get this under control," Dr. Washington warns.

The increase in children with high blood pressure is directly tied to lifestyle, though genetics plays a role. Watch children for these risk factors:

  • Overweight or obese

  • Poor nutrition, or a diet of too much high-fat or high-sodium food with little nutritional value

  • Lack of physical activity

  • Smoking

  • Family history of high blood pressure

"The majority of kids don't need to be put on medication," Dr. Washington notes. "Easily, 80 percent of the kids I see for high blood pressure can do well with lifestyle changes alone.

"Riding a bike is good exercise, but riding a bike across the street to your friend's house to play video games does not constitute exercise," he adds. "Kids need a total of 60 minutes of exercise daily."

You can help get your children moving by limiting time for TV watching and video games.

Some kids, Dr. Washington says, go three or four days without eating any fruit or vegetable except french fries. "Kids need a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables daily."