High Blood Pressure During Childhood and Adolescence

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Too many youth have high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Using the updated 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Clinical Practice GuidelineExternal, a new CDC study shows that about 4% of youth aged 12–19 years have hypertension, and another 10% have elevated blood pressure (previously called “prehypertension”). Youth with obesity had the highest prevalence of hypertension.

High blood pressure in youth is linked to health problems later in life. The good news is that high blood pressure is preventable and treatable.

Study Finds Many Youth Have Hypertension

CDC analyzed data from more than 12,000 participants aged 12–19 years responding to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) during 2001–2016. CDC used these data to determine how the new guideline impacts hypertension trends among youth over time.

Using the criteria of the 2017 AAP Clinical Practice Guideline, more than 1 in 7 U.S. youth aged 12–19 years had hypertension or elevated blood pressure in 2013–2016.

Read the 2017 AAP Clinical Practice GuidelineExternal for Screening and Management of High Blood Pressure in Children and Adolescents.

Listen to a new CDC podcast about hypertension among youth.

Key findings from the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) include:

  • Hypertension among youth has decreased, but youth are still at risk. Between 2001 and 2016, the prevalence of hypertension declined using both the new and former guidelines. But there are still many youth with hypertension and other cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as obesity and diabetes. Even with this downward trend, under the new guideline more youth are classified as having hypertension than 15 years ago under the former guideline.
  • The new guideline changes the numbers and uses a lower threshold for hypertension. Compared to the former guideline, the updated guideline reclassifies 2.6% of youth in the United States, or nearly 800,000 youth, as having hypertension.
    • Nearly half of the youth newly reclassified as having hypertension have obesity. Obesity in youth is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to the 95th percentile. (Calculate your child’s BMI.)
    • Youth aged 18–19 years account for about half of the increase, and males account for more than two thirds.
  • An estimated 1.3 million youth age 12-19 would have hypertension according to the new guidelines, which is about 4% of the population. In a classroom of 30 youth, one would have hypertension, and about 3 more would have elevated blood pressure.
  • Risks for cardiovascular disease that start in childhood are more likely to carry over into adulthood. Youth who have cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as hypertension, obesity, and diabetes, are more likely to have these risk factors as adults, putting them at greater risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • Healthy diet and exercise are important to reducing these risk factors. Ensuring that youth are eating a healthy diet and getting enough physical activity is crucial to helping prevent cardiovascular disease.

What Can Parents Do?

Ask your doctor to measure your child’s blood pressure starting at age 3. Helping children maintain a healthy weight, eat nutritious foods, and get regular physical activity can lower their blood pressure and reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease later in life. Try these tips to help youth keep a healthy weight and normal blood pressure:

Food and drinks

Physical activity

Healthy weight

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