New data show that nearly a third of American adults have high blood pressure, putting them at higher risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. Experts believe that the obesity epidemic and the aging population are to blame. Reporting in Hypertension: The Journal of the American Heart Association (August 24, 2004), researchers found that 30% more American adults have hypertension, compared with the previous decade.

The current figures are based on Census data and a 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination survey of 4531 adults. The figures show that 31.3% of Americans have high blood pressure, up from 28.9% from the previous national health report from 1988-1994. Old age, excess weight, and lack of physical exercise are risks for hypertension. The standard systolic pressure should be below 120 mm Hg, while the diastolic pressure should be <80 mm Hg.

The analysis found that 65 million Americans either have high blood pressure (defined as blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or higher), take blood-pressure-lowering medications, or have been told at least 2 times that they have high blood pressure. Because there are no symptoms of high blood pressure, adults should be checked at least every 2 years, recommended study author Larry E. Fields, MD.