If your child is overweight, avoids fruits and vegetables, and prefers computer games to the real ones, be concerned. A new AIIMS study on 10,000 Delhi schoolchildren has found that 3-4% of them suffered from hypertension, the most common cause of heart-related deaths. Among these were children as young as five years old.
The study, conducted on children from low and middle income groups, found incidence of hypertension — which means having high blood pressure — increased with age and body mass index (BMI), which is a determinant of obesity.
"Almost 70% of kids with childhood hypertension are likely to grow into hypertensive adults if corrective steps such as diet control and physical activity are not undertaken," said Dr Umesh Kapil, lead author of the study, published in the latest issue of Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Given people's sedentary lifestyles, Dr Kapil said screening of children for hypertension should be make part of the school health programme.
The study was undertaken in municipal-run schools and Kendriya Vidyalayas and BP readings were noted as per recommendations of the American Heart Association.
Hypertension is the most common cause of non-communicable diseases in India — chiefly heart disease, brain stroke and kidney disease.
"It is estimated that 16% of ischaemic heart disease, 21% of peripheral vascular disease, 24% of acute myocardial infarctions and 29% of strokes are attributable to hypertension, underlining the huge impact effective hypertension prevention and control can have on reducing the rising burden of cardiovascular disease," said Dr Kapil, who heads the human nutrition unit at AIIMS.
He said cutting down on junk food, which is high in salt, and promoting physical activity can help ward-off hypertension in children.
"Prevalence of hypertension in schoolchildren belonging to the low income group, as has been shown in this study, is alarming. Awareness about risk factors for childhood obesity and correct nutrition in this income group is largely absent. Since many of these children belong to government schools, government should strengthen nutrition-related knowledge and increase physical activity in these schools," said Dr Anoop Misra from Fortis.
"High blood pressure doesn't often cause symptoms. It is important to have periodical screening for blood pressure to detect the condition, more importantly in obese children who are double at risk," said Dr Anupam Sibal, group medical director of Apollo hospitals.
He said doctors are getting cases of children as young as eight years old who are obese and suffer from hypertension. "In rare cases, children may experience headaches and blurred vision due to high blood pressure. They have to be put on medication for BP control and strict lifestyle changes," he added.
Sailesh Mohan, senior research scientist and associate professor at the Public Health Foundation of India, said foods with high salt content increase thirst and lead to increased consumption of calorie-dense soft drinks, thus indirectly contributing to childhood obesity.
"Almost 80% of people do not consume the recommended quantities of fruits and vegetables, which are good sources of potassium and can reduce the impact of sodium on blood pressure," he said.