The number of children hospitalized for high blood pressure has increased dramatically over the past decade – almost doubling from 12,661 in 1997 to 24,602 in 2006.

After calculating discharge records from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) Kids’ Inpatient Database, researchers also discovered the rise in hypertension-related hospitalizations has led to a 50 percent increase in costs for inpatient care – reaching approximately $3.1 billion.

The study, published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, stemmed from the equally dramatic increase in hypertension being seen in adults in the U.S.

“Looking through the research, there’s definitely a lot of published reports looking at the frequency of hypertension in outpatient settings, but there’s not a lot of inpatient data, especially in pediatrics,” Dr. Cheryl Tran, a fellow in the Department of Pediatric Nephrology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the study’s lead author, told FoxNews.com.  “Numerous studies have examined the adult population, so given that trend in hypertension, we want to see how that translated over to the inpatient landscape.”

Along with discovering the increase in hospitalizations and economic costs, Tran and her team also found that the average length of stay for children with hypertension was twice as long as stays for children with other illnesses – typically lasting eight days compared to four.  The most common diagnoses for hospitalized children included pneumonia, acute appendicitis and asthma.

While the scientists only focused on discharge data, they could not account for the exact rise in hypertension among children.  However, they did speculate that obesity and nutrition played a key role in their findings.

“We hypothesized that the rise of hypertension may be in part to obesity,” Tran said.  “We looked at both primary diagnoses and secondary diagnoses, in order to account for everyone that might have been treated for this particular disorder.  When hypertension was the primary diagnosis, obesity was one of the top second most common diagnoses.”

If high blood pressure was only a secondary diagnosis, children often were first diagnosed with lupus, complications due to kidney transplants, pneumonia and acute proliferative glomerulonephritis – inflammation in the kidney that can cause hypertension.

With such staggering statistics, Tran advocated for preventative health education for parents.  Not only are the economic consequences high, she said, but children could suffer later in life if their hypertension is not addressed quickly.

“It’s important that the health care community and families are addressing healthy lifestyle habits,” Tran said. “That they’re working together to identify children with hypertension early on.  They need to be cognizant of their [children’s] growth percentiles and their blood pressures.  That’s the first step to preventing this condition.”

“It’s important because children with high blood pressure are at risk for high blood pressure in adulthood,” Tran added, “and the complications of that are large.”