April 1 (UPI) -- The percentage of teenagers with high blood pressure in the United States has increased over the past decade, a study published Thursday by JAMA Network Open found.
Between 2015 and 2018, 3.7% of adolescents age 13 to 17 nationally had high blood pressure, up from 2.5% in 2011-14, the data showed.
The increase occurred after the prevalence of high blood pressure, or hypertension, in this age group had fallen from 6.6% to 2.5% between 1999 and 2002 and 2011-14.
Over the same period, the percentage of children age 8 to 12 with high blood pressure fell to 4.6% from 5.2%.
At least some of the rise in blood pressure among teens is attributable to an uptick in the prevalence of obesity.
Since 1999, the prevalence of obesity among U.S. adolescents has grown to 22% from 18%. The condition raises the risk for high blood pressure three-fold, researchers said.
"Our findings indicate a need to increase hypertension prevention efforts in childhood and adolescence," study co-author Shakia T. Hardy told UPI in an email.
"Reversing this trend of increasing blood pressure in childhood is important for preventing hypertension and cardiovascular disease in adulthood," said Hardy, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
High blood pressure forces the heart to work harder to pump blood to the rest of the body increases risk for serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Children and adolescents develop high blood pressure in the same way adults do -- by being overweight, having unhealthy eating habits and limiting physical activity, the Mayo Clinic adds.
For this study, Hardy and her colleagues analyzed health data on nearly 20,000 children and adolescents over a 20-year period, documenting blood pressure and weight changes, among other metrics.
Average blood pressure levels in both age groups increased slightly over the course of the two-decade study period, the data showed.
"Determining why trends in blood pressure are increasing is challenging," Hardy said.
However, "educating parents and children on monitoring their blood pressure at home and on lifestyle behaviors that influence blood pressure levels" can help, she said.