March 3, 2023 – Black women are twice as likely as white women to have uncontrolled high blood pressure when they are between the ages of 20 and 50 years old, according to new data from the American Heart Association.
It’s an especially dangerous time in life to have blood pressure problems because it raises the risk of potentially fatal pregnancy complications. One of the top ways to manage blood pressure – through diet changes and healthy eating – isn’t universally accessible to Black women, with 25% facing barriers to getting healthy foods.
“Food insecurity is important when thinking about high blood pressure since sodium levels are higher in many lower-cost food options such as canned, ultra-processed and fast foods," study author Lara C. Kovell, MD, said in a statement. "Moreover, food insecurity and a lack of access to healthy foods have been shown in other studies to increase the risk of high blood pressure."
Published this week in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the analysis was conducted on data from 1,293 women who ranged in age from 20 to 50 years old and had high blood pressure or were taking medication for high blood pressure. The study defined high blood pressure as 140/90 mmHg or higher. (A normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg or lower.) The average age of women in the study was 36 years old, and 80% of the women had previously been pregnant.
The study purposely analyzed women of child-bearing age to better understand why there are differing blood pressure-related health risks during pregnancy based on someone’s race or ethnicity. Those risks had been established in previous research. The authors called high blood pressure “one of the most important and modifiable risk factors for pregnancy‐related morbidity and mortality in addition to lifetime cardiovascular disease.”
Results found that 38% of Black women in the study had uncontrolled high blood pressure, which was significantly higher than the 25% of white women in the study who had uncontrolled high blood pressure. The findings align with previous research that shows Black women are at elevated health risks during pregnancy. They are at least six times more likely than white women to die if they develop pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, such as preeclampsia.
Researchers also looked at whether study participants’ likelihood of having uncontrolled high blood pressure was related to other factors such as education level, income, food security, home ownership, language, and access to health insurance and medical care.
“Our findings suggest factors not explored in this analysis, such as experienced racism, social supports, or stress, may drive inequities in [blood pressure] control,” they wrote. The factors like education level and health insurance “do not explain racial inequity in maternal outcomes and addressing structural racism is necessary to achieve health equity.”