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New Guidelines Stress Earlier Health Screenings

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Young bodies seem to bounce back from every tumble and every illness, but new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that beginning at age 3, it is not too early to look for signs of heart disease.

"Because some of the damage done by chronic hypertension actually starts in childhood," Duke pediatrician Jennifer Cheng said.

Cheng will not have Chloe Pearce's blood pressure checked. She is only 18 months old and feeling fine.

"Today, she's great. Our 16-year-old, our oldest son, he came in with a sore throat and he has strep," mother Amy Pearce said.

The new guidelines are a result of the obesity and overweight epidemic in children, which plagues one in three children in the United States. Poor diet and lack of exercise can have immediate consequences.

"Unfortunately, we often see fatty streaks, which are actually a precursor of atheresclerotic heart disease in adults," Cheng said. "If you identify them early and treat them appropriately, you can avoid a lot of the long-term complications."

Sometimes, hypertension in children is a sign of underlying problems like cancer, kidney disease or metabolic problems.

Typically, treating elevated blood pressure in children requires no medication, but a change in lifestyle such as a change in diet. Plus, there is less time spent indoors watching TV and more time outdoors running, jumping and climbing.

The new guidelines recommend blood pressure monitoring be done every year for most children and more often for children with underlying conditions.