Hypertension has today become so widespread that almost everyone knows someone in the family who is suffering from it. High blood pressure or Hypertension can be a precursor to a host of dreaded lifestyle disease such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease – among others. This disorder has traditionally been observed in the working population over the age of 30. Now it is not surprising to see patients even in their 20s visit doctors for therapy options to treat hypertension! and even more concerning issue is that children in their teens or even below the age of 10 are also developing symptoms of hypertension.
Lifestyle factors have a significant role to play in the increase in cases of hypertension across India. Children today are not as physically active as they were a decade ago. There are multiple factors that have contributed to the decline in physical activity and an increase in the consumption of fried, fatty or fast foods. The rise of nuclear families and increasing number of dual-earner parents means there is lesser time to monitor the child’s activities. Children are often left to their own devices because of which there is growing tendency to binge on fast foods and cozy up in bed with a few movies to watch!
With greater accessibility to fast food options through food delivery apps and a growing number of fast food outlets at every corner, children are developing a preference for tastier, ‘fattier’ and salty foods. Unlike the earlier days where parents could at least scare their children into eating healthy, today children are much bolder and may even refuse to eat at all! There has been a corresponding rise in the cases of childhood obesity across the country which is clear evidence of the declining health of our young ones.
Salt is a well-known trigger of blood pressure – excess salt throws the body out of balance and takes a toll on the heart, causing it to pump faster to process the salt in the body. Increased intake of salt creates an imbalance in the water and salt excretion process in the kidney further contributing to hypertension.
With an increase in the use and dependency on technological gadgets, children today also do not go out to play as much as they used to earlier. It has become more common to see young kids curled up in a corner playing the latest funky game in the market, sometimes even to the point of obsession. Understanding the situation at hand and the various factors that have contributed to the increase in hypertension, it is our duty to guide young ones and ensure a healthy life for them.
Most cases of hypertension in children can be reversed if the appropriate measures to stop the adoption of poor lifestyle habits are put into place. Schools and parents play an important role in making this happen.
Parents must try to make the time to engage their kids in physical activities or enroll them in cultural activities, sports or outdoor hobbies where they will learn to love being active. Schools are where children are exposed to the most life changing influences. A balanced curriculum which places equal focus on inculcating good lifestyle habits in kids along with daily lessons is a must for a school to create healthy leaders for tomorrow’s world.
Parents must also take their children for regular blood pressure screenings as a part of their check-ups to reinforce the importance of taking care of their health. Children also pick up heavily from their parents habits therefore parents must themselves learn to pick up healthier lifestyle habits and become good role models for their children.
When children are constantly exposed to anxious individuals, they may also begin to feel the same stress in themselves – therefore it is important that parents learn to manage their own stress rather than bring it home. Meditation and yoga are good methods to help release negative emotions and bring a sense of well-being into the house.
(Writer is Dr Parimala V Thirumalesh, Lead Sr. Consultant, Neonatology & Paediatrics, Aster CMI Hospital. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)