High blood pressure in adulthood might begin in childhood

Researchers have discovered childhood obesity might lead to high blood pressure in adulthood. The more weight a person gains during puberty, the more likely they are to suffer from hypertension much later in life.

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

High blood pressure is very common and increases a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke — two of the leading causes of death in the United States. According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tens of millions of adults in the U.S. suffer from the condition. Known as the silent killer, it is usually symptomless.

To better understand the relationship between obesity during childhood and high blood pressure during adulthood, Lilja’s team analyzed data from around 1,700 Swedish adults born between 1948 and 1968. Researchers observed body mass index readings on two occasions: when the participants were between 7 and 8 years old, and when they were 18 to 20 years old.

The researchers then compared those findings to the participants’ blood pressure readings when they reached between 50 to 64 years old. The study’s results revealed middle-aged men experienced a1.3-point increase in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and a 0.75-point increase in diastolic pressure (the bottom number) for every one unit increase in their BMI during childhood. For every unit increase in BMI during puberty, the men experienced 1-point increases in systolic and 0.53-point increases in diastolic blood pressure.

Middle-aged women experienced a 0.96-point systolic increase and 0.77-point diastolic increase for each BMI unit increase during puberty. However, no connection was found concerning women’s BMI before puberty and their blood pressure later in life.

Researcher Dr. Jenny Kindblomm, from Sweden’s Sahlgrenska University Hospital, noted the differences in blood pressure discovered throughout the study were not large, but could lead to significant health concerns later in life.

“(I)f blood pressure is slightly elevated over many years, it can damage blood vessels and lead to cardiovascular and kidney disease,” he told U.S. News and World Report.