High blood pressure among problems

MONTREAL (CUP) – One in five Canadians aged 14 to 15 suffers from high blood pressure, and the majority of teenagers already has at least one major risk factor for developing heart disease and stroke, according to new research presented last week at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Edmonton.

Although Canadians are more knowledgeable today about healthful lifestyle habits, there’s a discrepancy between possessing information and actually applying it, said Dr. Roland Grad, an associate professor in the department of Family Medicine at McGill University.

Grad is also a family physician, though he did not take part in the research itself.

“You might have information that Tim Hortons and McDonald’s aren’t very good for you, but you still eat it anyways," he said. "This leads to the rise in obesity that we’re seeing, and it’s the obesity that drives up the cholesterol and blood pressure."

While presenting the research findings, Toronto cardiologist Dr. Brian McCrindle said the study demonstrates the health of Canada's teens is declining at an accelerated rate.

The information stems from a study that monitored the heart health of over 20,000 Grade 9 students from Ontario’s Niagara region between 2002 and 2008. During this period, the number of adolescents with risk factors for heart disease increased from 17 to 21 per cent. The percentage of obese teens and those with high cholesterol also rose. High blood pressure rates dropped to 17 per cent by 2008; a two per cent decrease.

McCrindle cited family history, high levels of inactive behaviour, poor nutrition, and lower socio-economic status as all having a negative effect on an individual’s heart health.

Easily accessible junk food and the prevalence of video games also have a big effect on health, said Grad.

Exacerbating it, though, is a lack of effort in Canada to recognize guidelines required for managing risk factors for heart disease and stroke amongst children, said Dr. Charles Luc Jutras – despite a strong effort to do so for adults.

Jutras is a pediatric cardiologist and an associate professor in the department of Pediatrics at McGill.

Although those in the pediatric age group may have risk factors, the complications only occur as adults, and as a result it’s difficult for a pediatrician to perceive whether they should operate or intervene before the child turns 18, Jutras said.

Because paediatric doctors stop monitoring patients at age 18, Jutras said, they don't often get to see long-term ramifications of poor lifestyle habits.

But a doctor's responsibility to ensure a child's health only extends so far into a person's life, Grad said. He noted, for example, the medical community is aware of the obesity problem. But ultimately, decisions about what a person eats and how much they exercise are their own.

Both Grad and Jutras said governments, schools, parents, and individuals need to work together to ensure these figures decrease.

“If you make it easier for people to ride their bicycle, or if you put a soccer field in a school, if you do those kinds of things, people are going to find it easier to get more exercise,” said Grad.

Though the future may look bleak, Jutras said he remains positive.

“There’s always a pendulum effect, so now we’re swinging that way, but later we may swing the other away."

//Valeria Nekhim
The Concordian (Concordia University)

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