Study indicates increase in blood pressure and weight in children

by Dawn Throener

Weight and blood pressure are increasing among children between the ages of 10 and 14 according to a recent University study.
The report, completed by the University’s School of Public Health, took the blood pressure, height and weight of Minneapolis students in 1986 and 1996.
Findings indicate the increases are a social trend not affected by ethnic background or gender according to Russell Luepker, an epidemiologist and principal researcher for the study.
“Everybody is getting heavier,” Luepker said. “It’s a broad social phenomenon affecting all groups.” Luepker added that the results do not surprise administrators at area school systems.
David Jacobs, professor of epidemiology and researcher for the study, said heart attacks and strokes at a younger age are some of the consequences overweight children face.
Jacobs also said even a slight increase in caloric intake can put the body out of sync.
For example, a person usually needs to consume 1,500 calories a day. By taking as little as 25 extra additional calories — the equivalent of a sip of soda — a person would increase their body weight by one pound about every five months.
In a year, that adds up to two-and-a-half pounds of unneeded weight.
“It’s amazing how little it really does take (for body weight to increase),” Jacobs said. “We’re seeing a bad trend in kids.”
Yet Dr. Alan Sinaiko, another researcher involved with the study, emphasized that while it is important for overweight children and their parents to be aware of their weight, this issue can’t be overdramatized.
“We don’t want to solve one problem by creating another,” he said.
Lack of exercise is one issue related to the increase of children’s weight and blood pressure.
Jacobs said “physicians don’t know what to do about it” because it is hard to get children to exercise.
“We’re engineering physical activity out of our lives,” Jacobs said. People need to force themselves to move from one place to another.
Luepker said other studies done over the past 30 years show that kids are not exercising at home.
“When I was a kid, my mom told me to go out and play.” he said. Now, children spend more time on the computer, watching television or playing video games than exercising and playing sports.
Who should be held accountable for encouraging children to do exercises: parents, teachers, schools or children themselves, asked Luepker. “I think it’s a combination,” he explained.
Finding ways to encourage children to exercise more might be found later as researchers learn more from other studies on children’s activities.
“The things we learn will help influence what we do in the future,” Luepker said.
People familiar with the study question the research’s focus for not including children’s eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
“In public health, overweight issues are more common and more of a problem,” Luepker said.
Although the study was observational, eventually the findings might be used as part of health education strategies to counteract children’s weight and blood pressure problems.
The University report was published in The Journal of Pediatrics in June.