Study finds unexpectedly high risk of hypertension for young adults

June 7, 2011

Nearly 20% of young adults in the United States may have high blood pressure, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, an analysis sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and published online in Epidemiology.

Nearly 20% of young adults in the United States may have high blood pressure, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), an analysis sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and published online in Epidemiology.

Investigators recorded blood pressure readings of more than 15,000 men and women between 24 and 32 years of age who were enrolled in the study. High blood pressure was defined as 140/90 mmHg or greater. Respondents were asked whether they had been told by a healthcare professional that they had high blood pressure. Following the interview, they remained seated for 5 minutes and study technicians took 3 readings of their blood pressure. Accuracy of each reading was double-checked and the average of the last 2 readings was entered into the study database.

The authors then examined discordances in hypertension findings between Add Health and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which found a rate of 4% among participants of the same age. Although, high blood pressure appeared more prevalent among the Add Health respondents than among the NHANES respondents, the authors found that the proportion of respondents reporting that they had been told by a healthcare provider that they had high blood pressure was similar: 11% (Add Health) versus 9% (NHANES).

"We explored several possible explanations for the difference between this study and NHANES, including participant characteristics, where they were examined, and the types of devices for measuring their blood pressure," said the study’s principal investigator, Kathleen Mullan Harris, PhD, in a press release. "None of these factors could account for the differences in estimates between the 2 surveys."

The study concluded that the findings warranted further scrutiny.