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Hypertension dangers lurking in obese kids

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is mostly an adult issue but doctors say the danger exists in kids, too.
October 11, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a silent disease that doctors screen for regularly. That's a message physicians often give to adults. Now, the recommendation is going out to kids, some as young as 3 years old.

A review of the health record of 250,000 Southern California kids reveals that not only can high blood pressure occur in very young children, it can also trigger early changes that lead to heart disease. The reason is obesity.

One local child is learning a tough lesson. A 9-year-old should be free of worries, but three months ago, Israel Pena got news that made him grow up really fast. He says he blames himself.

This East Los Angeles fifth-grader tips the scales at nearly 125 pounds. In June, he went to the emergency room with difficulty breathing. Doctors admitted him to the hospital because his blood pressure was off the charts.

His mom Carolina says she's still in shock that her son was diagnosed with an adult disease because of his nutrition and exercise.

"I would say in this population where we are in the inner city of Los Angeles, I would say that 80 percent of our children are obese," said Dr. Martha Rivera with White Memorial Medical Center.

A new Kaiser Permanente Southern California Study looked at health records of its patients 6 to 17 years old. Researchers found being overweight can double a kid's risk for high blood pressure, but extremely obese children and adolescents are 10 times more likely to have hypertension.

"In obese children, we have to be aware that the consequences of obesity can be there at a very early age," said Dr. Corrina Koebner with Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

Many doctors are using adult medications to treat young kids, but experts agree the first course of treatment should be changing a child's lifestyle, and that includes the family.

"Five fruits and vegetables a day, limit the screen time to two hours a day, at least one hour of exercise everyday and almost no soda or sugary beverages," said Koebner.

While Israel feels he's at an all-time low, he wants to make healthier changes in his life.

Israel was in the hospital for four days. He hopes other kids understand what he's going through so they can also make better decisions about what they eat.

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