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1 in 3 Adults Has High Blood Pressure.

Obesity Weighs on 33% Increase in Americans
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WebMD Health News

Aug. 23, 2004 -- The number of adults in the U.S. with high blood pressure increased by nearly a third during the last 10 years, according to the latest government figures. Sixty-five million Americans now have hypertension compared with 50 million a decade ago -- an 8% increase.

While much of the rise can be explained by the fact that the U.S. population is larger and older than it was 10 years ago, the increase in the number of overweight and obese Americans is also a major contributing factor, says American Heart Association spokesman David Goff, MD, PhD.

"Over the past 40 years we have seen heart attack and stroke rates go down, but now that blood pressure levels are going up we may soon see heart attack and stroke rates start to go back up as well," Goff tells WebMD. Goff is a professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Elderly, Blacks at Greatest Risk

The findings show that nearly a third of American adults have high blood pressure, defined for most people as having a systolic (top) number of 140 mm Hg or higher and/or a diastolic (bottom) number of 90 mm Hg or higher..

To come up with the new figures, government researchers analyzed data from the CDC's National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey of the U.S. from years 1988 to 1994 and compared them with data from 1999 to 2000. Hypertension was defined as having blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or higher, using blood pressure lowering medication, or having been told at least twice by a doctor that they have high blood pressure.

Eighty percent or four out of five cases of hypertension occurred in people aged 45 and older. Along racial lines, non-Hispanic blacks, especially females had the highest rates of high blood pressure. They made up 40% of those found to be diagnosed with high blood pressure compared with 27% who were non-Hispanic whites and just under 29% who were Mexican Americans.

The findings are published in the latest online issue of the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

Prevention Efforts Target Obesity

Researcher Larry Fields, MD, and colleagues write that some of the increase might be due to the fact that more people are living longer with hypertension, thanks to healthier lifestyles and better blood pressure control.

But national figures show that only about a third of those with high blood pressure adequately control the condition with medication.

"It is clear that we have to enhance our efforts to make people aware that high blood pressure continues to be a major problem," Fields tells WebMD. "We have to encourage them to get their blood pressure checked and to get treatment, if needed."

Goff says there is need for a public education campaign aimed at obesity, similar to past campaigns that targeted smoking and dietary fat intake.

"The public responded to these messages," he says. "Now we need to stress that calories do count and that maintaining a healthy weight is important. People need to eat right and move more, so that they burn the calories they eat. And they need to try to reduce salt intake."

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