Youth no guarantee against high blood pressure

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The number of young adults with high blood pressure appears to be on the rise. Nineteen percent of 14,000 men and women between the ages of 24 and 32 had a blood pressure reading of 140/90 millimeters of mercury or higher when it was measured at their home as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (known as Add Health). Normal blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 or less, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. This percentage is particularly striking when compared to the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which found that only 4 percent of the almost 10,000 adults aged 20 to 39 in their study had hypertension.

Researchers and medical professionals remain puzzled about the significant difference in the rate of high blood pressure between the two study groups. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Kathleen Mullan Harris, principal investigator of the Add Health study, says that her team took into account a number of possible explanations for the disparity, including “participant characteristics, where they were examined and the types of devices for measuring blood pressure,” but still could not tie the difference to any particular reason. Chip Lavie, medical director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Prevention at the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans, thinks that the difference may be attributed to the greater prevalence of overweight and obese participants in the Add Health study (67 percent) versus the NHANES study (58 percent). Still, “it’s difficult to ascribe an almost five-fold difference in the incidence of high blood pressure among young adults in the same time frame to an increase in the rate of obesity,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. He does agree with other medical professionals’ reaction to the report, which has been to advise weight loss and physical activity for anyone whose blood pressure is inching over the 120/80 range. Dr. Ross also recommends keeping tabs on your blood pressure by measuring it at home — easily done with an inexpensive monitor.