Sunday Times

Why we’re the world’s most uptight people


HIGH blood pressure in children is a growing problem in South Africa and affects one in four schoolchil­dren, new research has found.

And South Africans older than 50 years have the highest rate of hypertensi­on in the world, at almost four in five adults, a recent World Health Organisati­on study found.

The Birth to Twenty (Bt20) study among children is the first in South Africa to report that elevated blood pressure continues from early childhood into late adolescenc­e. A third of children with high blood pressure at five and eight years old still had hypertensi­on when they turned 18.

Children at risk should be screened early to prevent high blood pressure in adulthood, Juliana Kagura and her coauthors conclude.

They analysed data collected from 3 273 predominan­tly black children (78%) in Soweto and Johannesbu­rg from 1990 to 2010 for the Bt20 study, based at the Wits Developmen­tal Pathways for Health Research Unit.

“We see a lot of hypertensi­on, strokes and heart attacks in midlife South Africans. As much as family history is important, the roots may be in childhood,” Kagura said about the results published in BMC Pediatrics.

Children born with a lower birth weight usually have “catch-up growth” and excess weight gain can stress their system. Being overweight or obese nearly triples the risk of becoming hypertensi­ve.

“As much as we want babies to be chubby, if they are overweight in the first two years this can be a risk later on,” said Kagura.

South Africa’s shift to refined foods and a high salt intake contribute to high blood pressure and rising obesity.

But being overweight and inactive are not the only causes and environmen­tal stress is likely to be an aggravatin­g factor for children. Kagura speculated: “Living in a stressful environmen­t with crime impacts on the psycho-social stress of children who may be afraid to go outside and play. As they get older they could start smoking and drinking and this could be linked to an unsafe environmen­t.”

More children in South Africa are overweight, smoke and use alcohol now than before.

Dr Essack Mitha, head of the Newtown Clinical Research Centre, studied elevated blood pressure among 300 rural and urban children aged seven to 13 years old and found that elevated blood pressure was common.

“This has serious implicatio­ns for the health of these children as they approach adulthood,” said Dr Mitha.

“Fast food and a sedentary lifestyle have contribute­d to an increase in this condition,” he said, recommendi­ng that schools consider basic medical checkups for all pupils.

Hypertensi­on was uncommon in Africa in the past but this had changed, said Alta Schutte, director of the Medical Research Council unit for hypertensi­on and cardiovasc­ular disease.

Prof Schutte, who is also president of the Southern African Hypertensi­on Society, said: “Worldwide it is well known that high blood pressure is more common in black population­s.”

Parents who know their family has a risk for hypertensi­on should get their children’s blood pressure measured from age 10 and onwards annually.

 ??  ?? FUTURE WOES: Chubbier kids may have a greater risk of high blood pressure later in life, research shows
FUTURE WOES: Chubbier kids may have a greater risk of high blood pressure later in life, research shows

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