MONDAY, June 18, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- The number of children hospitalized with high blood pressure nearly doubled in a single decade, according to a new study.
Not only are more children being diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension), but these children also cost more to treat and stay longer in the hospital, researchers from the University of Michigan said.
"The increasing hospitalizations may in part be due to the rise in childhood obesity," said lead researcher Dr. Cheryl Tran, a pediatrician at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, which is affiliated with the university.
"A child with high blood pressure is at increased risk of developing high blood pressure in adulthood and the long-term complications that are associated with hypertension," she added.
Counseling families and providing education on healthy diet and exercise, as well as identifying hypertension in children early on to provide the appropriate therapy, may be the first steps toward preventing the disease and its complications, Tran said.
The report was published June 18 in the journal Hypertension.
To see the effects of hypertension, Tran's team used data from the Kids' Inpatient Database of the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project from 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2006.
They found that children diagnosed with hypertension when admitted to hospitals increased from about 12,600 in 1997 to about 24,600 in 2006.
During that period, the cost of caring for these children in hospitals increased 50 percent to an estimated $3.1 billion. This figure does not include the cost of outpatient treatment, which is unknown, the researchers noted.
The biggest increase in cost was for treating children with hypertension and end-stage kidney disease.
Children with high blood pressure stayed in the hospital twice as long as children without high blood pressure -- eight days versus four days -- the study found.
Overall, the most common reasons children were hospitalized were pneumonia-related infection, acute appendicitis and asthma. These children were likely to be older than 9, male, African-American and seen in a teaching hospital, Tran's group found.
When hypertension was the main diagnosis, it was seen most often in children with lupus, complications from a kidney transplant, pneumonia and other kidney conditions.
Dr. Joshua Samuels, a pediatrician in the department of pediatric nephrology and hypertension at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, said the obesity epidemic is at the root of the sharp rise in children with hypertension.
"Over the last decade there has been increasing evidence that high blood pressure in children is an increasing problem and not one we can ignore," said Samuels, who wrote an accompanying journal editorial. "[And obesity] ... is the biggest risk factor for high blood pressure in children."
These children have all the risk factors for cardiovascular disease that adults have, he said.
"They are overweight, they are prediabetic, they have high blood pressure and early evidence of cardiovascular problems," he added.
If this trend is not reversed, most of these children are going to die from cardiovascular disease, Samuels said.
"They are not going to die from it now," he said. "They are going to die from it in their 30s, 40s and 50s."
About 1 percent to 3 percent of U.S. children have high blood pressure, much of which is related to obesity, according to study background information.
About 32 percent of American children aged 2 to 19 years are overweight, according to the American Heart Association. And 17 percent of children are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For more about high blood pressure in children, visit the Nemours Foundation.