Obesity, Hypertension, and the Forming Brain


There may at the moment be a relatively small number of morbidly obese kids, but the number of potential morbidly obese children grows every day for three solid reasons. First, so many never have a chance of a normal-weight childhood, their obesity guaranteed by maternal behavior. Often, it’s not even something the expectant mother did out of carelessness or even ignorance, but a factor she had no control over. Science has not yet identified all the factors that can cause harm to a developing fetus.

Second, the younger obesity starts, the more likely it is to develop into the category we call morbid. Third, the longer obesity exists, the more difficult it is for the body to adapt back to a normal, healthful weight. So, some kids are born with three strikes against them. Also, in the minds of many people, if they think about it at all, morbid obesity is understood as a problem with a later-life onset, a condition that will catch up with a person some day.

The accelerated future

But more and more, “some day” is now. We seem to have entered a new era of “instant karma,” where fate catches up sooner, and the co-morbidities can kick in before the person is out of high school. For instance, it has been known for some years that children who are overweight or obese are at a much greater risk of developing high blood pressure. Between 1997 and 2006, hospitalizations for hypertension-related pediatric illnesses almost doubled.

A study found that “convulsive disorder, headache, obesity and systemic lupus erythematosus were the most common secondary diagnoses when hypertension was the primary diagnosis,” which is kind of a roundabout way of spotlighting a problem, but the study was looking at other things, too.

As if the situation were not worrisome enough, it was recently discovered that in children and adolescents, high blood pressure comes along with cognitive issues. In other words, they can’t think straight. Led by Marc B. Lande, MD, MPH, researchers from eight highly respected institutions studied hypertensive young people between 10 and 18 years of age. The subjects did not include any children with other problems acknowledged to affect cognitive function.

Here is the bad news:

The children with hypertension performed worse on the cognitive tests that measured visual and verbal memory, processing speed, and verbal skills. Additionally, more children with sleep issues had hypertension, which intensified the effect of poor sleep on cognition and executive function.

Okay, to say they can’t think straight is a bit harsh and hyperbolic. The average test scores of the high-blood-pressure group and the control group were both pretty much within normal limits. Although the hypertensive kids didn’t test badly enough to be technically characterized as cognitively impaired, the sad fact is that they performed worse than their compatriots with normal blood pressure. In a highly competitive world where academic success is so vital, every little bit of edge counts.

This was not the first study to notice “instant karma” effects on the growing brain, and sadly, it will not be the last.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Kid hypertension hospitalizations double,” UPI.com, 06/19/12
Source: “Childhood hypertension associated with cognitive issues,” ScienceDaily.com, 09/29/16
Photo via Visualhunt

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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