A study conducted by UKZN’s Professor Rajendra Bhimma and colleagues has established that prehypertension and hypertension are highly prevalent among Grade 12 learners in public schools.

Titled: Prevalence of Primary Hypertension and Risk Factors in Grade 12 Learners in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the study also revealed a high incidence of obesity and overweight cases associated with the tension conditions.

Bhimma says to combat this, healthcare professionals and authorities need to educate learners about major lifestyle changes they must undergo, including improved eating habits, doing more exercise and encouraging youngsters not to smoke.

Bhimma is an expert in pediatric nephrology in UKZN’s School of Clinical Medicine.

The research was done among learners at 15 randomly selected schools in five districts in KwaZulu-Natal from March 2016 to June 2017.

Demographic data including age, sex, race and place of residence were recorded for each learner; together with height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure, and glucose and cholesterol measurements, among others.

Voluntary assistance was provided by doctors and nurses from various institutions as well as science students doing their Master’s in Science degree at UKZN.

The requisite sample size was determined using an estimation of population size in the area, with a minimum representative sample taken from each school. A sample size of 316 was required to estimate the level of hypertension in school children to within 5%, with a probability of 95% and assuming an estimate of 10% hypertension in the population. Since schools were the sampling unit, a design factor of 1.5 was used to adjust for the correlation within schools which increased the sample size to 474. The sample size was also increased by 15% to account for incomplete data and consent refusal.

Thus, the total sample size required for this study was 560 children. A total of 575 learners participated on the day of the study.

Said Bhimma: ‘The findings of this study are of major public health interest because if this rising trend of overweight conditions and obesity predisposing to primary hypertension in learners is not curbed, the burden of chronic kidney disease and chronic heart disease is likely to exponentially increase in the coming decades resulting in a major burden on health care’s resources in the country.’

The study has been published on the Hindawi International Journal of Hypertension.

Words: Lihle Sosibo