Aa Youth And High Blood Pressure

African American Youth with High Blood Pressure Have a Higher Risk of Heart Disease

by David J Breland, MD, MPH

Researchers recently found that African American (AA) youth between the ages of 3 and 20 with high blood pressure (hypertension) had more risk of cardiovascular disease than non-AA youth.  Overall, AA youth were overweight or obese at higher rates.  AA youth who were 13 years old or more had higher blood pressures on average then non-AA youth.1

Blood pressure is the force of blood against your artery walls as it circulated through your body.  It normally rises and falls throughout the day.  It is measured with an inflatable cuff with a pressure gauge.  The gauge measures blood pressure as two numbers.  The top number is your systolic pressure (the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats) and the bottom number is the diastolic pressure (the pressure after the heart beats).  For example, it is written as 120/80. 

For adults, race is a known risk factor for hypertension and overall cardiovascular risk.  A person’s diet can cause hypertension such as eating too much salt. For youth, blood pressure typically increases as children grow up. Blood pressure is also influenced by race and ethnicity in children.  AA youth may have more cardiovascular risk because of higher levels of obesity and hypertension in this group.  There is evidence that adults with hypertension may have had high blood pressure as children and adolescents.  Adult hypertension has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. These are the 1st and 3rd leading cause of death of adults in the United States.  Early diagnosis and treatment of hypertension in children and adolescents may influence cardiovascular disease later in life.

What can parents do to prevent hypertension in their children?

  • Bring your child or adolescent for regular check ups with a health care provider that can check your child’s blood pressure. It is easy, and it doesn’t hurt.
  • Know what a healthy BMI (body mass index) is for your child as they are growing.  This is important because being overweight or obese is linked to hypertension. Your child’s provider can help you identify ways to prevent or manage this.
  • Give healthy food options, like plenty of fruits and vegetables, and foods low in salt. Avoid processed foods and restaurant foods, since they usually have high levels of salt.
  • Children and adolescent need regular physical activity.  Encourage your child to get at least 60 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
  • If your child has hypertension, it is important to work with a health care specialist to control it.


Resources: American Academy of Pediatrics:  www.HealthyChildren.org, search for high blood pressure.

rady TM, Fivush B, Parekh RS, Flynn JT. Racial differences among children with primary hypertension. Pediatrics. Nov;126(5):931-937.