Objectives. To describe the current prevalence of pediatric hypertension and the relationships between gender, ethnicity, overweight, and blood pressure.

Methods. School-based screening was performed in 5102 children (13.5 ± 1.7 years) from May through November 2002. Age, gender, ethnicity, weight, and height were ascertained, and body mass index (BMI) was calculated as weight (kg)/height (m2). Overweight was defined as BMI ≥95th percentile. Students with blood pressure >95th percentile on the first screening underwent a second screening 1 to 2 weeks later, and then a third screening if blood pressure was >95th percentile at the second screening.

Results. Ethnicity distribution was 44% white, 25% Hispanic, 22% African American, and 7% Asian. Overall, overweight prevalence was 20%, which varied significantly by ethnicity (31% Hispanic, 20% African American, 15% white, and 11% Asian). The prevalence of elevated blood pressure after first, second, and third screenings was 19.4%, 9.5%, and 4.5%, respectively. Elevated blood pressure on first screening was highest among Hispanics (25%) and lowest among Asians (14%). Ethnic differences in the prevalence of hypertension (elevated blood pressure on 3 screenings) were not significant after controlling for overweight. The prevalence of hypertension increased progressively as the BMI percentile increased from ≤5th percentile (2%) to ≥95th percentile (11%). After adjustment for gender, ethnicity, overweight, and age, the relative risk of hypertension was significant for gender (relative risk: 1.50; confidence interval: 1.15, 1.95) and overweight (relative risk: 3.26; confidence interval: 2.50, 4.24).

Conclusions. These results confirm an evolving epidemic of cardiovascular risk in youth, as evidenced by an increase in the prevalence of overweight and hypertension, notably among ethnic minority children.

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