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Children's Health: Teen boys at greater risk of high blood pressure than girls

Getting off the couch and participating in physical activities is important in heading off future problems

Adolescent boys are much more likely to have high blood pressure than their female counterparts, a recent Canadian study has shown. The study also reveals that lack of physical activity is a factor in young people developing the condition.

Researchers from McGill University and the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal regularly measured blood pressure in more than 1,200 Grade 7, 9 and 11 students between 1999 and 2005.

The risk of having high systolic blood pressure — the first number in a blood pressure reading — rose 19 per cent annually in the boys but remained stable for the girls, after the researchers accounted for differing weights and physical activity levels.

Among both groups, being overweight was associated with a more than two-fold increased risk of having high systolic blood pressure. Physical activity, or a lack thereof, also played a key role. For every five hours of sedentary behaviour, such as playing video games or surfing the Internet, the researchers noted a 17 per cent increase in the likelihood a teen would have high blood pressure. Conversely, for every five additional physical activities like sports, dance or chores the teens participated in, there was an eight to 10 per cent decrease in their likelihood of having high systolic blood pressure.

Study author Dr. Kaberi Dasgupta, an assistant professor of medicine at McGill, says children aren’t normally given medication for high blood pressure, but it is nevertheless important for parents, children and schools to learn about the link between exercise and blood pressure because this may help increase a child’s activity levels.

“Given the fact that the boys seem to be at higher risk than the girls, it may be important to detect them in their teen years, because as boys get older … they tend to be less likely to consult with physicians than females.”

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