A child has a blood pressure check

Primary school students’ blood pressure will be checked in the classroom under a pilot program to help lower the risk of stroke and heart disease in adulthood.

The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute study, involving Christ Church Grammar School in South Yarra, aims to address the silent precursors of serious heart health problems such as high blood pressure and thickening of the arteries that begin to form in the early years.

The Healthy Hearts @ School Study will involve Grade 3-6 students, with parental/carer consent, having their blood pressure checked at school. The families of those students who record a high blood pressure reading will receive a letter to give to their GP who can then refer them to The Royal Children’s Hospital or their local paediatrician for specialist follow-up.

The research team will also run a heart health education session at the school, which will cover how the heart and arteries work, what blood pressure is and strategies for good heart health such as regular exercise, a healthy diet and getting the recommended amount of sleep.

Murdoch Children’s project coordinator PhD candidate Jonathan Glenning said promoting heart health during childhood was crucial, given the rising rates of obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease in Australia.

Jonathan Glenning takes the blood pressure of Christ Church Grammar student Louis.

Jonathan Glenning takes the blood pressure of Christ Church Grammar student Louis.

High blood pressure is one of the primary risk factors for heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death worldwide. Globally, an average of three children per school classroom have elevated blood pressure or hypertension.

“Children with high blood pressure, many of whom appear to be healthy, have a greater risk of developing hypertension in adulthood, which is the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” Mr Glenning said. 

“Educating children about how to maintain a healthy heart is likely to have many benefits such as adopting a well-balanced diet, engaging in physical activity and getting adequate sleep, which will reduce the long-term risk of heart disease.”

Christ Church Grammar School Principal Neil Andary said as a school principal he believed it was crucial to prioritise heart health in young children.

“Encouraging their participation in medical research not only empowers them to make informed decisions but also contributes to ground-breaking discoveries that benefit both their own well-being now and in the future,” he said.  

The European Society of Hypertension and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend blood pressure be measured in children and adolescents at least once a year. However, in Australia it isn’t common practice for children to have their blood pressure measured.

“We know high blood pressure is common in adults, but many people don’t realise how common it is in kids too,” Mr Glenning said. Parents can help by encouraging their kids to eat a healthy diet that is low in salt and sugary drinks and high in fruit, vegetables and whole grains, engaging in lots of physical activity and limiting screen time.”

Mr Glenning said if the program was successful and deemed acceptable by the school community the aim would be to have it rolled out to more schools across Victoria.

A second round of blood pressure measurements will also be taken in a subset of children involved in the initial screening. They would receive a blood pressure monitor to wear for 24 hours. Every family involved in the study will be provided with a letter outlining their child’s blood pressure results. One month after the visit, the team will check on those students who recorded high blood pressure results to ensure they have the support they needed.

Murdoch Children’s Associate Professor Jonathan Mynard, senior project lead, together with his research team has formed a national network, BPOzKids, to help address the problem of high blood pressure in Australian children.

“There is a significant groundswell forming amongst clinical and public health experts that focuses on prevention of cardiovascular disease starting in childhood,” he said.

“Only starting to think about heart health in mid-life leads to a missed opportunity. This project in schools is an important step towards better educating children about heart health and also creating a scalable pathway to identifying children at increased risk.”

It also comes as Associate Professor Mynard is leading an initiative supported by Hypertension Australia to create the first Australian guidelines to detect and manage high blood pressure in children.

“Current blood pressure guidelines in Australia are only designed for those aged over 18 years,” he said. Some clinicians are using international guidelines for children but these aren’t always transferrable to an Australia setting due to our differing healthcare systems and thresholds. The aim is to make measuring blood pressure in children best practice in Australia.” 

The school project also involves researchers from The Royal Children’s Hospital and the University of Melbourne.

Available for interview

Jonathan Glenning, Murdoch Children’s researcher

Associate Professor Jonathan Mynard, Murdoch Children’s, Team Leader, Heart Research

Neil Andary, Christ Church Grammar School Principal

Media contact for Murdoch Children's

Phone: +61 457 365 848

About Murdoch Children's Research Institute

Murdoch Children's Research Institute is the largest child health research institute in Australia committed to making discoveries and developing treatments to improve child and adolescent health in Australia and around the world. They are pioneering new treatments, trialling better vaccines and improving ways of diagnosing and helping sick babies, children and adolescents. It is one of the only research institutes in Australia to offer genetic testing to find answers for families of children with previously undiagnosed conditions.


This study is funded by the Shepherd Foundation. Jonathan Glenning is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education Research Training Program (RTP).