The Grapevine

Most Black Adults Develop Hypertension By Age Of 55, Study Finds

Nearly three-quarters of black adults are likely to develop high blood pressure by the time they turn 55, compared to only half of white adults from the same age range. 

The study titled "Cumulative Incidence of Hypertension by 55 Years of Age in Blacks and Whites: The CARDIA Study" was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA) on July 11.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is characterized by blood flowing through the arteries at above-normal pressures. In medical terms, it is defined as systolic/diastolic blood pressure of 130/80 mmHg or higher. It was redefined in 2017, being lowered from the previous threshold of 140/90 mmHg.

"Hypertension is something that can develop pretty early," said Dr. Stephen Justin Thomas, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. "[There is] a big racial disparity, where blacks tend to develop hypertension at an earlier age and at a quicker rate than whites do."

The research team examined data on 3,890 people of both racial groups. At the time of enrollment, the participants (aged between 18 to 30 years) did not have hypertension and were not taking any medication to control blood pressure.

The following portions of each sub-group, divided by race and gender, had developed high blood pressure by the age of 55 years — 75.5 percent of black men, 75.7 percent of black women, 54.5 percent of white men, and 40 percent of white women.

According to the AHA, the reason for the disparity has been linked to higher rates of obesity and diabetes among African-Americans. Studies have also suggested that a particular gene could make them more salt sensitive compared to other racial groups.

But regardless of race or gender, higher body weight was associated with an increased risk for high blood pressure. This has been known since extra body weight can add strain to the heart and the circulatory system.

Participants who followed the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet were found to have the lowest risk of developing blood pressure. This type of diet involves a high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low or fat-free dairy, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts. It also limits the consumption of red meat, salt, and sugar-sweetened beverages. 

Thus, the findings emphasize the importance of modifiable risk factors such as dietary patterns, physical activity, and body weight. "It is important to note that most high blood pressure is preventable through lifestyle changes," said Willie E. Lawrence Jr., an AHA spokesman and chief of cardiology at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

"We need to encourage all young people, and especially our young African Americans who are at highest risk, to think about their future health and make choices that will change these statistics."