1 in 12 school children have high blood pressure
A major new Irish study found that 1 in 12 primary school children are already suffering from high blood pressure, which puts them at risk of heart disease and stroke in later adulthood.
The disturbing findings emerged in a study conducted in Cork over 14 months, across a sample of 1,075 children and involved 3rd and 4th class school children. Unfortunately these findings were of no surprise to me as a Dietitian. I have seen a number of older children and teenagers who have presented to the nutrition clinic for dietary advice to help combat elevated blood pressure.
One-quarter of the children surveyed in the study in 27 schools across Cork were overweight, figures which are in line with the national statistics for obesity amongst children. It is known that obese children are twice more likely to have high blood pressure than their normal weight classmates. If we think about the physiology, the more overweight a child or adult is, the harder the heart has to work to pump the blood around a “bigger” body. Another 2012 study indicated that more than 300,000 Irish children were overweight – rates which have trebled since 2000.
Professor Ivan Perry from UCC Cork who instigated the study reported that children who have higher than average blood pressure in their first decade of life are likely to continue to have it for the rest of their lives. “The problem is that it tracks from childhood to middle age and what you see in middle age is the culmination of 30 or 40 years of lifetime experience”. Having worked as a hospital based Dietitian in the past, I had observed that the age profile of adults being admitted to the coronary care units with heart attacks, angina and strokes was becoming younger and younger. A decade ago, heart attacks and strokes were mainly prevalent in the over 50’s age group but nowadays, it’s not unusual for someone to be admitted with uncontrolled blood pressure or heart attacks in their late 20’s.
Professor Perry indicates that the issue stems with a couple of roots; lack of physical activity, obesity and excessive salt intakes. The study found the children had very sedentary pastimes; one in five watched three or more hours of TV a day. Almost half playing at least one hour of computer games on a school night.
The greatest concern from the report focused on diet with half the Irish youngsters surveyed ingesting far above the recommended daily salt intake due to their reliance on processed and take-away foods. It is recommended that adults consume no more than 6 g of salt daily but the average intake is aprox 10 g per day. It’s a common misconception that if you don’t add salt to cooking or at the table there isn’t anything to worry about. The fact is that more than two thirds of our salt intake comes from salt which is added to everyday foods; sausages, processed meat, packet soups, jars of sauces, breads, breakfast cereals and ready meals.
The study’s co-ordinators admitted that the biggest concern was in the area of diet, with 5% of children not eating any breakfast before school, while 15% were treated to a takeaway more than once a week by their parents.
The study will now be considered by Health Minister James Reilly, who has repeatedly expressed concern at the soaring levels of obesity in Ireland. It is clear that Ireland is facing a healthcare time-bomb unless greater efforts are made to promote healthier lifestyles.