November 21, 2014

Nurse Researcher Presents First Dean’s Distinguished Lecture

Rice delivers the inaugural Dean's Distinguished Lecture.

Rice delivers the inaugural Dean’s Distinguished Lecture.

The UAMS College of Nursing welcomed a nationally-recognized nurse researcher for its inaugural Dean’s Distinguished Lectureship Nov. 21, where she discussed the risks and signs of high blood pressure in children from pre-school to adolescents.

Marti Rice, Ph.D., R.N., a professor in the Family, Child Health and Caregiving Department of the School of Nursing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, also discussed the enjoyment and challenges involved in research studies. Her presentation, “It Isn’t Just Your Grandmother’s Disease: Elevated Blood Pressure in Children,” charted various research efforts to identify behaviors or risk factors in children for high blood pressure readings.

Introducing Rice to an audience that included many students and College of Nursing faculty members, Jean McSweeney, Ph.D., R.N., professor and
associate dean for research and director of the college’s PhD program, also praised Dean Lorraine Frazier, Ph.D., R.N., for sponsoring the planned lecture series to bring leaders in the nursing profession to UAMS.

Despite preconceptions, Rice said, hypertension, or high blood pressure, is quickly becoming a problem at a younger age. She also pointed to research that showed how evidence of heightened blood pressure readings in children can be indicators of later cardiovascular problems.

“Many think of hypertension as a problem that comes with age but that is not necessarily so,” Rice said, pointing to figures that showed an increase of 50 million hypertension diagnoses in Americans age 6 and older in 2004 that grew to more than 75 million in 2014.

High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, the No. 1 killer in this country. Even just one higher-than-normal blood pressure reading in a child could track to adult hypertension, Rice said.

Across several studies of elementary school-age children, Rice and her team examined numerous factors that could contribute to a high blood pressure reading. Gender, height, weight, anxiety level, and anger expression, were among the factors considered, along with socio-economic status and the level of connection students feels to their schools . Connectedness to their schools has been shown to aid in self-confidence and behavior control and also to anger expression.

Rice said ongoing studies are looking into additional issues as potential risk factors for high blood pressure readings in children. Access to healthy food and parental influence on healthy eating habits as also impact vascular function and are being studied.

Rice also praised her research teams. There were challenges sometimes in recruiting the hundreds of student participants, especially for studies that involved finger pricks for blood samples, she said. On the other hand, many children were more willing to have blood pressure measurements and were not unfamiliar with blood pressure cuffs.

Still, she said, the implications of hypertension starting at a younger age are serious. “This is a multi-generational problem,” she said.

CON-deanslecture-nov2014-1Marti Rice, Ph.D., R.N. from the University of Alabama Birmingham School of Nursing (left) and Jean McSweeney, Ph.D., R.N., UAMS College of Nursing professor, associate dean for research and director of the PhD program.