Cardiovascular health problems continue to disproportionately affect black people — a new study found that over 75% of black people aged 55 and more develop high blood pressure.

Researchers first identified 3,890 participants from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study who enrolled in the study between the ages of 18 to 30 years without high blood pressure. They tracked these people until they were 55 and over, finding that:

  • 75.5 percent of black men,
  • 75.7 percent of black women,
  • 54.5 percent of white men, and
  • 40.0 percent of white women developed high blood pressure.

The racial disparity is very significant and is consistent with what previous studies have found — black people, both men and women, suffer from heart problems much more than whites.

“Regardless of blood pressure levels in young adulthood, blacks have a substantially higher risk for developing high blood pressure compared with whites through 55 years of age,” said S. Justin Thomas, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It is urgent that healthcare providers counsel young patients, particularly blacks, about eating a healthy diet, being physically active and controlling body weight. The risk of high blood pressure can be significantly reduced with a healthy lifestyle.”

As expected, one of the main factors contributing to high blood pressure was higher body weight. Regardless of race and gender, people with a higher Body Mass Index are more likely to develop cardiovascular problems. Researchers also found that study participants who opted for a DASH-style diet were much less likely to suffer from this type of health issue.

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DASH is a flexible and balanced eating plan that helps create a heart-healthy eating style for life, increasingly recommended by medical bodies.

The DASH diet is more a set of guidelines than a diet. It recommends:

– Eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains;
– Including fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils;
– Limiting foods that are high in saturated fats, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and palm oils
– Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets.

But it’s not all bad. The most important takeaway, researchers say, is that cardiovascular risk can be reduced dramatically through healthy lifestyle changes. It’s important to encourage people of all races to consume healthier foods and be more physically active, but researchers emphasize that these shifts are particularly important in black people.

“It is important to note that most high blood pressure is preventable through lifestyle changes,” said Willie E. Lawrence, Jr. M.D., a spokesman for the American Heart Association 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.”

Journal Reference: Thomas et al. “Cumulative Incidence of Hypertension by 55 Years of Age in Blacks and Whites: The CARDIA Study.”