Health chiefs have called on parents to model healthier behaviours after saying that sedentary lifestyles, poor diets and being overweight is leading to more children having high blood pressure.

In a paper published in the European Society of Cardiology’s European Heart Journal, heart experts recommend that introducing healthier lifestyles should be done by families as a whole, with an emphasis on activities like family bikes rides or walks.

The paper details high blood pressure – hypertension – in children and young people aged from six to 16, saying the rise in numbers of children affected is “of great concern”.

First author Professor Giovanni de Simone, from the University of Naples Federico II in Italy, said: “Parents are significant agents of change in the promotion of children’s health behaviours. Very often, high blood pressure and/or obesity coexist in the same family. But even when this is not the case, it is desirable that lifestyle modifications involve all family members.

“Recording weight, eating habits and exercise over time – but without becoming obsessive – can help young people and their families to track progress towards their goals.”

Professor de Simone also recommended that parents monitor their children’s screen time and encourage them to keep active. Jogging, cycling or swimming are good ways in which children and young people can meet the ideal target of doing at least an hour of moderate or vigorous exercise each day. Reducing the amount of sugary drinks, saturated fat and salt children consume is another way to treat high blood pressure, along with eating more fruit, vegetables and high fibre food.

Professor de Simone says that “the rise in childhood hypertension is of great concern as it is associated with persistence of hypertension and other cardiovascular problems during adulthood”, with this latest paper calling childhood obesity and high blood pressure “insidious siblings” as it can lead to serious health problems in later life.

Previous studies have found that the increase in childhood obesity is, in part, responsible for the rise in high blood pressure among young people. In children of a normal weight, around 2% have high blood pressure. The figure for children who are overweight is 5%, and 15% in children classed as obese.

Experts say early diagnosis of high blood pressure is vital and recommend screening programmes among children and young people as there are usually no symptoms of the condition.

They have also called for high-profile campaigns, along with an emphasis on changing behaviours and education for families where children are found to have high blood pressure.

Read the study in full in the European Heart Journal.

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