Paediatric cardiologists have alerted that more children, especially from well-to-do families, are coming down with high blood pressure.
According to the cardiologists, unhealthy lifestyle practices by the rich could be a major factor in the development.
The experts noted that the desire to feed children with fast, processed food and carbohydrates, while not allowing them to play outside is wrong, noting that the food being consumed by the children eventually gets converted into fat.
The paediatric cardiologists noted that hypertension in children is not easily picked up like that of adults but urged parents to be alert to detect it early in children.
They advised that children’s blood pressure should be checked from the age of three, noting that parents must begin to pay attention to any change in their children’s blood pressure measurement.
According to Mayo Clinic, high blood pressure in children is blood pressure that is at or above the 95th percentile.
Mayo Clinic further explained that though there are usually no symptoms of hypertension in children, parents must be alert to signs of headaches, seizures, vomiting, chest pain and shortness of breath in children, noting that they could be indications of elevated blood pressure.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, a Professor of Paediatrics in the School of Medicine, College of Medical Sciences, University of Benin, Wilson Sadoh, said parents need to begin to deal with elevated blood pressure being fuelled by obesity.
Sadoh, who is also a Fellow of the American College of Cardiologists, said, “The major reason why there seems to be a rise in elevated blood pressure is because of the rise in obesity. If you go to schools, especially private schools, a lot of children are obese and that is the reason for this so-called rise in hypertension in children.”
He attributed the rise in blood pressure to what the children eat and the absence of physical exercise. He said, “It’s what they eat. They eat a lot of fast foods, a lot of soda, meat pies and so on. Instead of taking proper food, they are taking fast foods, soda. These things contribute to making them gain weight
“The other factor is that they don’t exercise as much as they should. Oftentimes their television hours are very high, they are playing video games, rather than playing outside.
“They play video games, watch TV and when they are done, they go to sleep.
Also, when they wake, the parents ask them to sit and read. That is the pattern and it is wrong.
“Sometimes when they are watching TV or playing video games, they are taking popcorn, which is a carbohydrate and thus increasing their calories.
“We know that when it comes to weight gain or the body size, there has to be a balance between what you take in and the energy that you expend. So if you are eating a lot, especially high energy fast food and you don’t have the opportunity to burn the energy, it gets stored in the body and becomes fat.”
He also noted that due to the insecurity in the country, parents are also careful not to allow their children to play outside which also encourages a sedentary lifestyle and consequently impacts on the health of the children.
Contrasting this lifestyle with that of children from poor backgrounds, Sadoh stated that they are more likely to burn out the carbohydrates they consume through their daily activities and exercise.
“The children of the poor are probably playing football on the street and burning calories.
“But if you see your children playing outside, you’d call them inside and warn the living daylight out of them. That’s poor education,” he said.
He urged parents to discard the idea that a child that is fat is healthy.
He also encouraged parents to switch their children to natural foods, instead of processed or fast foods all the time.
According to Sadoh, parents should ensure that their children’s body mass index is between 25 and 29.
On his part, Prof. Mustafa Asani, who is also a Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist with Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, said, the consequences of unmanaged high blood pressure in children are just as bad as it is in adults.
Elevated blood pressure, he said, could cause multisystemic organ failure in children, if not detected early and properly managed.
“Just like adults, if the blood pressure has started affecting the organs like the eyes, the brain, the heart, definitely they will show signs of sickness.”
The professors, however, stressed that parents who are hypertensive should also be watchful of their children when they notice them becoming obese, noting that hypertension is a strong gene that can be inherited.
Explaining further, Sadoh said, “There are children whose parents already have hypertension; those children are the ones at an increased risk. If you are hypertensive and your child is putting on weight then you have to be careful because that gene is very strong,” he said.