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Blood pressure study targets ethnic groups (2/26/97)

Are "normal" blood pressure values for African American children the same as those values for Hispanic or Anglo children?

Shirley Menard, PhD, RN, associate professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center School of Nursing, and her research team have begun a two-year study funded by the Office of Maternal Child Health (Department of Health and Human Services) to find answers to this question. "Current guides are not very accurate," explains Dr. Menard, principal investigator. "'Normal' blood pressure values may be different for children and adolescents of various ethnic groups." Heretofore, values have been established without considerations of ethnicity and/or culture and were based mostly on normal values for Anglo children.

While Dr. Menard's study will focus primarily on African Americans, Hispanics and Anglos will be included. Students enrolled in the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), ages 5 to 18, are invited to participate. Comprised of nurses and clerical assistants, Dr. Menard's research team will travel to various schools in SAISD and compile data from a minimum of 100 students per grade (kindergarten through 12) per sex. Student participants will have their blood pressures, weights, heights and skin folds measured and recorded. The blood pressures will be taken with both an oscillometric device and with a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope.

"We're really establishing norms with the oscillometric device," said Dr. Menard. "The machine is more accurate than the cuff and stethoscope. There is no widespread knowledge nor normal values for blood pressures taken with the machine."

The researchers also will gather data about the participants' diets. Students will be asked to recall what foods and beverages they consumed the day prior to their participation in the study. The information is entered into a computer; special software then gives the researchers specifics on the amounts of fat, potassium, sodium etc. in the students' diets.

The popularity of fast foods coupled with sedentary life- styles has contributed to increasing numbers of obese children and adolescents, Dr. Menard said. This dietary information will assist the researchers in determining correlations between obesity and diet and blood pressure values, she adds.

This is the second child/adolescent blood pressure study in which Dr. Menard has participated. "In 1992-1995, we studied primarily the Hispanic and Anglo populations. Dr. Myung Park (professor of pediatrics at the Health Science Center) was principal investigator," she stated. She hopes to do a third study which would focus on Native American and Asian children.

"We have paid so much attention for so many years to adults with high blood pressure, but not enough attention to the children. Some of the reason for that was not having a device to take their blood pressures. But, now that we do have one, we still don't pay enough attention," Dr. Menard said.

During the 1992-1995 study, the research team identified an elementary school student with high blood pressure. "In that case, our study lead to life-saving heart surgery," Dr. Menard said. "When we find kids with hypertension, we refer them to the school nurse or their family doctor," she added.

"We need to pick up kids tending toward hypertension," Dr. Menard stressed. "We need to detect it early, so we won't be treating all the other diseases that can result."

Contact: Joanne Shaw (210) 567-2570