What’s Really to Blame for High Blood Pressure in Children?

Written by Sy Mukherjee

American children’s risk for having high blood pressure has ballooned by 27 percent over 13 years, according to new research by a group of scientists at Harvard Medical School. The researchers contend that the rise is largely attributable to excess salt consumption and obesity — but policy shortcomings often contribute to Americans’ unhealthy lifestyles in the first place.

The study finds that over 80 percent of children consume more than the daily recommended 2,300 milligrams of sodium on a regular basis — which is also well over the recommended maximum intake of 1,500 milligrams for those with high blood pressure. Children who consumed the highest amount of salt were at 36 percent higher risk of having high blood pressure than children who ate less of it, according to the research.

But the amount of salt that kids consume is partly due to the food industry’s reckless use of sodium in its products. The vast majority — approximately 75 percent — of salt consumed by Americans comes from restaurant meals and processed, pre-packaged foods like white bread, ham, spaghetti with sauce, and ketchup. As Nature World News points out, the same level of excess sodium is found in at least 75 percent of food marketed at toddlers, too.

By some estimates, the food industry’s predilection for salt contributes to 100,000 American deaths every year from hypertension that leads to heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular conditions — conditions that are much more likely to form in people who have high blood pressure at an early age.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has failed to act in any meaningful way to curb salt level in food despite the demonstrable health risks of excess sodium and the overwhelming recommendation of food researchers and public health advocates, including the Institute of Medicine. That’s largely a consequence ofthe disproportionate power of the corporate food lobby, which significantly jams up even the most uncontroversial reforms. Labeling requirements for deadly trans fatstook over six years to work their way through the regulatory bureaucracy, stymied by industry complaints and threats of lawsuits.

Socioeconomic disparities also contribute to consuming too much salt and its subsequent medical consequences. The new study found that black children had 28 percent higher blood pressures than non-Hispanic white children. That’s not just a coincidence. Minorities, and specifically low-income minorities, tend to have worse diets because their communities lack access to supermarkets that sell healthy food products. Conservatives often criticize food stamp beneficiaries for eating soda and other junk food — but they rarely offer a solution for the resource disparity that forces recipients to rely on that kind of food, or the odd and demanding hours that poor people must work that may prevent them from preparing home-cooked meals.

Worse still, poor black and Latino Americans don’t have access to the sort of preventative and primary health care services that may alert them to and help manage an underlying condition like high blood pressure. Republican-led states that forgo Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion will only exacerbate those disparities by denying their neediest residents health insurance.

Lifestyle changes are certainly an important aspect of reversing Americans’ decline in health. But regulating the substances that feed those declines, and providing health care to groups disproportionately impacted by poverty and a lack of both healthy food and medical resources, are also parts of the equation.

This post was originally published at ThinkProgress.

Photo from Thinkstock


Kay Martin
Kay M4 years ago

Thank you for the great article with all the good information. I enjoyed reading all of the over 95 comments from the care 2 members.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G4 years ago


Kay M.
.4 years ago

Thank you for the article, thanks for the over 95 comments and the discussions between the care 2 members.

Jane H.
Jane H4 years ago

very sad....I feel powerless to do anything about it.

Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo4 years ago

Thank you for the shocking news.

'Great White' Earth Being
'Great White' 4 years ago


You are on point with half the problem, the other half is lack of exercising and their are many of the causes/reasons for the whole problem. I see you have mentioned parents work, and I agree if your point is if it is that they do not have the time any maybe not even the resources (NOT food deserts) to teach and feed their children right. Yes, a long with the lack of resources for the parents the students lack the resources they need, like PE & Health classes.

Deanna R.
Deanna R4 years ago

Answer: their diet!! We don't need to "manage" high blood pressure. We need to teach people how to eat. Much of what kids are eating these days is pure junk. Parents work, don't send the kids to school with homemade lunches. Most of them are eating garbage at school too. The article blames salt as the culprit, but high blood pressure is part of metabolic syndrome, which is caused by eating too many refined carbs (obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure being the main diseases of metabolic syndrome). But they're only pointing to salt. Well salt is an ingredient of crap food, used to cover up the taste of cheap ingredients. There's also a ton of it in soda pop, disguised under the name natural flavors, but in that case it's to drive our thirst up. the more soda pop we drink, the thirstier we get. Kinda like drinking sea water. Increases sales tremendously though. Make it a big gulp! But it's the fructose in the soda pop causing metabolic syndrome/ high blood pressure (and obesity) and they're avoiding talking about that in this article. And avoiding it doesn't make it a very useful article, does it? I think most people on this site want the whole truth and it'd be great to give it to them. Not just industry written articles designed to confuse people. It's not rocket science. It's refined carbs that's destroying kid's health. Send real food in your kids' lunch boxes and avoid instant breakfast cereals (hot whole grain cereals are much healthier). Cut down on bread

'Great White' Earth Being
'Great White' 4 years ago

Mark K.,

"has no one ever heard of parenting and a simple balanced diet ??

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/whats-really-to-blame-for-high-blood-pressure-in-children.html#ixzz2ZtlpyQW3"

Please read the posts, before claiming something of the posters, instead of wasting our time reading your post. Example of one of the posts that already posted about parents responsibilities, Karen B.'s post right before your post with the above comment.

'Great White' Earth Being
'Great White' 4 years ago

Karen B.,

If the family lives in the area where there are healthy supermarkets, coops or whatever (NOT FOOD DESERTS) and have extra time, then you are wrong. As Vegan I can tell you, it is a lot cheaper* and easier*.
*- Directly- to satisfy your hunger and nutrient requirements, and indirectly- short and long term affects- bipolar energy levels, other affects, health problems and Etc..

I only agree that parents are responsible when the family exists in situation all the poor people want to exist in. If they live with money and benefits from maximum 2-employers, resources, enough time to spend a lot of time with their children, access to variety of healthy foods, good education (PE & Health classes) & Etc.