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Childhood malnutrition linked to higher blood pressure in adults

Severe malnutrition in childhood may increase the risk of hypertension in adulthood, which would have a significant impact on global health, according to research published recently in Hypertension.1

Researchers compared 116 adults who endured malnutrition growing up in Jamaica to 45 men and women who were adequately fed as children. The participants, most in their 20s and 30s, were measured for height, weight and blood pressure levels, and underwent echocardiograms or imaging tests to evaluate heart function.

Compared with those who weren’t malnourished, adults who survived early childhood malnutrition had:

  • Higher diastolic blood pressure readings (the bottom number in a blood pressure measurement)
  • Higher peripheral resistance (a measurement of the resistance to blood flow in smaller vessels)
  • Less efficient pumping of the heart
Dr Terrence Forrester (University of the West Indies)

Dr Terrence Forrester (University of the West Indies)

While severe malnutrition is most pervasive in developing countries, poverty and hunger linger in the United States. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 8.3 million children lived in food-insecure households in 2012. Food insecurity means that at times during the year, these households were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members.

Senior author Dr Terrence Forrester (University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica) said: “If nutritional needs are not met during this time, when structures of the body are highly susceptible to potentially irreversible change, it could have long-term consequences on heart anatomy and blood flow later in life”.

Addressing malnutrition comprehensively could help prevent and manage high blood pressure, Dr Forrester added: “Such an investment in nutrition and general health will have huge public health dividends, including these longer-term risks of chronic heart and metabolic diseases that cost so much in human lives”.

References

1. Tennant IA, Barnett AT, Thompson DS, et al. Impaired cardiovascular structure and function in adult survivors of severe acute malnutrition. Hypertension 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.114.03230

Published on: June 26, 2014

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