Nationwide, the childhood obesity rate has more than tripled in the last 30 years, and with its rise, childhood hypertension is climbing: As many as 4% of children have chronically high blood pressure. It’s been established that hypertensive children often experience problems contributing to academic and growth difficulties. Now, new research published in the journal Pediatrics reports that hypertension in children may increase the youths’ risk for learning disabilities.

University of Rochester researchers evaluated 201 children between the ages of 10 and 18. Based on blood pressure readings, 100 were diagnosed with high blood pressure while 101 were not. In addition, parents reported whether their child’s medical provider had diagnosed a learning disability or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Results: Children with hypertension were 18% more likely to have learning disabilities, whether or not they had an ADHD diagnosis. One possible reason: Brain imaging showed abnormal metabolic activity among hypertensive kids’ prefrontal cortex as compared to the same areas in children with normal blood pressure.

Here are a few tips to help keep your kids’ blood pressure under control:

  • Reduce salt intake. (U.S. kids typically consume two to three times the 1,300-1,500 mg needed daily)
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages.
  • Get more potassium from bananas, sweet potatoes and dried plums.
  • Choose vegetable sources of protein over red meat.
  • Increase physical activity.

Bonus: One study with mice found that pea protein lowered blood pressure by 20% after eight weeks.

Published March 1, 2011