CDC Study Finds Childhood High Blood Pressure Prevalence Decreasing

Quanhe Yang, PhD Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Atlanta, GA 30341

Dr. Yang Interview with:
Quanhe Yang, PhD
Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, GA 30341

MedicalResearch: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Yang: Body mass index (BMI) is an important risk factor for high blood pressure among adolescents. Despite a recent leveling off in the numbers of overweight and obese youths, weight-associated health outcomes remain a problem in the U.S. Some researchers have suggested that the increased prevalence of high blood pressure among adolescents is associated with the epidemic of overweight and obesity in the U.S.

As a result, we analyzed trends in pre-high blood pressure and high blood pressure among U.S. youth using data from a series of National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. Nearly 15,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 were included in the surveys, which were conducted between 1988 and 2012.

During that 24-year timeframe, the prevalence of high blood pressure actually decreased overall, while pre-high blood pressure remained largely unchanged. However, those rates differed based on body weight category. For example, pre-high blood pressure was consistently higher among overweight/obese adolescents (18 to 22 percent) than those of normal weight (11 to 12 percent). The observed changes in both pre-high blood pressure and high blood pressure prevalence were consistent across age group, sex and race/ethnicity.

MedicalResearch: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Yang: There were both positive and negative findings. Overall, the estimated number of adolescents with pre-high blood pressure and high blood pressure increased from just over 4 million to more than 5.5 million between 1988 and 2012 mainly due to the increased total number of adolescents over time – which rose from about 28.4 million to 33.5 million over the course of the surveys. On the other hand, it’s encouraging that high blood pressure prevalence appeared to decline in recent years.

Childhood blood pressure levels can track into adulthood – and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death nationwide. This research helps reveal existing and potential trends in the years to come, which can help clinicians and public health representatives focus efforts as needed. In addition, parents and adolescents can use this information as incentive to make lifestyle changes aimed at ensuring a healthier future, such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and managing blood pressure.

MedicalResearch: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Yang: Our findings suggested that the significant decline in high blood pressure prevalence could not be explained by sociodemographic or selected risk factors including age, sex, race/ethnicity, smoking status, physical activity, BMI, diet or family income. Further study is needed to determine the causes of that decline. In addition, further research should also consider the effects of changes in dietary intake, such as sodium and added sugar consumption, family history of high blood pressure and birth weight – all of which could play a role in blood pressure among adolescents.


Trends in High Blood Pressure among United States Adolescents across Body Weight Category between 1988 and 2012
Yang, Quanhe et al.
The Journal of Pediatrics


Quanhe Yang, PhD (2015). CDC Study Finds Childhood High Blood Pressure Prevalence Decreasing 

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