New study explores timing of changes in blood pressure health that lead to larger disparities

April 20, 2017

African-Americans and men are more likely to transition from ideal levels of blood pressure in childhood or early adulthood compared to white Americans and women, which puts them at increased risk of developing hypertension earlier in life. This is the primary finding of a new study published online April 19 by JAMA Cardiology.

The article, titled “Heterogeneity in blood pressure transitions over the life course: Age-specific emergence of gender and race/ethnic disparities in the US,” explores the timing of net transition probabilities between ideal blood pressure (120/80 mm Hg), prehypertension and hypertension in a diverse, nationally representative United States sample.

Shakia Hardy

Shakia Hardy

Shakia T. Hardy MPH, is the lead author of the study. Hardy is a doctoral student of epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

“The most important contribution of this paper,” explained Hardy, “is that it identifies peaks in movement from the ideal category of blood pressure to prehypertension and hypertension across the lifespan in the largest American ethnic groups. Identifying these periods of pronounced transitions may point to opportunities to prevent the worsening of this key risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”

The researchers’ findings highlight that the biggest gains in prevention will occur from targeting the maintenance of ideal blood pressure in childhood. This is because, during childhood, African-Americans and boys are more likely to transition out of the ideal category of blood pressure, thus introducing health disparities that accumulate over time.

“Widespread awareness of these data could help motivate researchers to focus on testing innovative prevention and detection programs for elevated blood pressure,” Hardy said. “Public health efforts that reach populations known to be vulnerable to early rises in blood pressure in culturally- and gender-appropriate settings are warranted.”

Other co-authors from the Gillings School include Katelyn M. Holliday, PhD, Joseph C. Engeda, MPH, Gerardo Heiss, PhD, MD, and Christy L. Avery, PhD, (Department of Epidemiology); Sujatro Chakladar, MS, Donglin Zeng, PhD, and Dan Yu Lin, PhD, (Department of Biostatistics); and Christina M. Shay, PhD, (Department of Nutrition).


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Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu

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