According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “About 1 of 3 U.S. adults—or about 75 million people—have high blood pressure. Only about half (54%) of these people have their high blood pressure under control.” Although this statistic sounds bad, when you delve a little deeper and break the data down by race and country of residence, an equally sobering statistic is revealed.
Outside of the United States, the prevalence of hypertension in non-Hispanic, African-heritage men and women is the same as that in Caucasian men and women. However, in the US, the story is a little different. WebMD reports that in the United States 41% of African Americans have high blood pressure, as compared to just 27% of Caucasians. Here we investigate a few of the various drivers to this discrepancy.
Research has shown that people with African-heritage are more sensitive to salt. Those with this sensitivity, which is thought to be genetic, can have an increase in their blood pressure by 5 points (mm Hg) with only a half-teaspoon of salt! But how does this explain the difference between African American rates of hypertension and those of other African-heritage people around the rest of the world? The answer likely comes from the fact that processed foods here in the United States have higher levels of salt than the exact same foods abroad.
Due to years of discrimination and socio-economic differences, African Americans are less likely to have access to healthier food options – many living in so-called food deserts. Since hypertension is associated with obesity and diabetes, by working to improve these areas of our country, we can help reduce cardiovascular risks for our neighbors. Check out what many in Cincinnati have been doing to better our city:
- Truck loaded with fresh produce rolls into Cincinnati’s ‘food deserts’
- Cincinnati trying to end food deserts
- Neighborhood Efforts Working to Overcome Food Deserts
What can I do to reduce my risk of hypertension today?
- Eat your 5-9 servings of vegetables/day (serving = ½ cup), especially focusing on increasing your green leafy vegetables intake, e.g. dark green leafy lettuces, spinach, kale, collards, etc.:
- Avoid processed foods:
- As processed foods tend to be higher in salt (and sugar), eating them can increase your risk of hypertension.
- Improve your physical activity:
- Since obesity is associated with hypertension, moving your body for at least 40-60 minutes/day can help improve your weight management.
- Keep all your added sugar intake to <25 grams/day as all sugars are pro-inflammatory to the cardiovascular system.
- Reduce your stress. We know stress leads to inflammation and often leads to other poor lifestyle choices (poor food choices, lack of exercise, increased use of alcohol) which directly contribute to hypertension.