FRIDAY, June 15, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- African ancestry does not explain why black Americans are more likely than whites to have high blood pressure, a new study says.
But there is a significant association between low education levels and high blood pressure in blacks.
The findings dispel the long-held belief that West African ancestry is a major reason for high rates of hypertension among black Americans, according to lead author Amy Non, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at Harvard University.
High blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, blindness and dementia, and blacks are more likely than whites to develop these complications in connection with high blood pressure.
Non and her colleagues examined data from nearly 3,700 American adults and found that four years of additional education would lead to a predicted decrease of 2 mmHg systolic (top number) blood pressure, a decrease that could lead to a large reduction in hypertension-related deaths in the United States.
Each year of education was associated with a 0.51 mmHg decrease in blood pressure.
"Improved access to education in African American communities may help to reduce racial inequalities of health," Non said in a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation news release. "We hope these findings will help African Americans and their physicians to better manage high blood pressure."
She explained that education can lead to higher levels of health knowledge and improved health behaviors, better job opportunities and a more positive attitude.
"While genetics undoubtedly plays a role in hypertension, our findings suggest that education level plays an even larger role in health disparities in hypertension," Non said. "This means that improved access to education among African Americans may reduce racial disparities in blood pressure."
The study will be published in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about high blood pressure.