In a study of more than 1,700 adolescents between 13 and 17 years old, obese boys were 3.5 times more likely to develop elevated systolic blood pressure (SBP) than non-obese boys, but similarly obese girls were 9 times more likely to develop elevated systolic blood pressure than their non-obese peers.
Systolic blood pressure, which is represented by the top number in a blood pressure reading, is the amount of force that blood exerts on blood vessel walls when the heart beats. High systolic measurements indicate risk for heart disease and stroke, the report said.
Rudy M. Ortiz, PhD, Associate Professor of Physiology and Nutrition and lead researcher in the study, found that the teenagers’ mean BMI was significantly correlated with mean SPB for both sexes when both BMI and blood pressure assessments were used.
An odds ratio analysis revealed that obese boys were 2 and 3.5 times more likely to develop pre-elevated and elevated SBP, respectively, than boys who were normal weight. Obese girls were 4 and 9 times more likely to develop pre-elevated and elevated SBP, respectively, than girls who were normal weight.
According to Dr. Ortiz, the results do not bode well for obese teens later in life, especially for the girls. “Overall, there is a higher likelihood that those who present with both higher BMI and blood pressure will succumb to cardiovascular complications as adults. But the findings suggest that obese females may have a higher risk of developing these problems [than males].”
As for why obesity has a greater impact on SBP in girls than in boys, Dr. Ortiz has a hunch. “This may be where physical activity comes into play. We know, for example, that obese adolescent females participate in 50 to 60% less physical activity than boys in the population surveyed.”
The study will be presented at the Physiology of Cardiovascular Disease: Gender Disparities conference, October 12–14 at the University of Mississippi in Jackson.