NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 24, 2004

The number of U.S. adults with high blood pressure has risen dramatically during the past decade, reversing a downward trend begun in the 1970s and putting millions more at risk of heart attacks and stroke, according to a new study.

About 65 million adults ages 18 and older in the United States have high blood pressure, compared with 50 million reported in a 1995 study that looked at survey data from 1988 to 1994.

  • Researchers found that nearly 1 in 3 adults has high blood pressure.
  • They tie the blood pressure rise to the aging population, population growth -- especially of the black population, which is prone to high blood pressure -- and the nation's growing obesity epidemic.

Larry Fields, the study's lead author cautioned that the link with obesity is circumstantial because researchers didn't correlate their findings with data on body mass index.

The study drew on data from the Census Bureau and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2000. Previous studies indicate that blood pressure rates hit a high of 36 percent of the population in the 1970s and bottomed out at 20 percent between 1988 and 1991.

Researchers say they can't track the trend precisely because most earlier surveys focused on those whose blood pressure topped 140 millimeters of mercury during the heart's contractions (the top number of blood pressure readings), those whose pressure topped 90 millimeters of mercury when the heart is at rest (the bottom number) and those getting hypertension treatment.

Source: Steve Sternberg, "1 in 3 have high blood pressure, study finds: Heart attack, stroke risk rises," USA Today, August 24, 2004.


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