Obese and overweight children are at high risk of developing high blood pressure in adulthood.

Researchers from Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University in Indianapolis have found that high blood pressure starts in childhood. Obese children have a four times greater risk of having high blood pressure when they reach adulthood and overweight children double the risk compared to normal weight children.

During the study, which kicked-off in 1986, researchers tracked the development of over 1,100 healthy adolescents from Indianapolis. Doctors checked their height, weight and blood pressure twice a year. They found that “about two-thirds were normal weight, while 16 percent were obese and 16 percent were overweight.” This year, the adolescent participants reached adulthood and around 26 percent of those who were obese as children were hypertensive compared with 14 percent of overweight children and 6 percent of normal weight children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. national public health institute, defines overweight as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.

Study author Dr. Sara Watson, a pediatric endocrinology fellow at Riley, says that childhood is a very important period and that “there are changes in obese children that contribute to risk of cardiometabolic diseases” ─ diseases caused by hypertension, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and excess belly fat. Watson expressed concern that children categorized simply as overweight are at a greater risk, because most people focus on those who are obese.

The study is especially significant in light of current U.S. statistics. According to the CDC, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The percentage of U.S. children aged 6–11 years who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of obese adolescents aged 12–19 years increased from 5–18 percent during the same period. In 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

The CDC also says that obese youth are at increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure. According to the institute, a sample of 5- 17 year-olds found that 70 percent of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Also, children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults!

Watson stresses that parents and pediatricians need to “keep an eye on kids’ body mass index (BMI) and take steps to help children control their weight.” Parents should insist that pediatricians track their child’s BMI, and be ready to participate in healthy eating and exercise. Evidence has already shown that family treatments for childhood obesity can improve BMI and can improve blood pressure in adolescents.

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