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1 in 5 young adults has high blood pressure
May 25th, 2011
07:07 PM ET

1 in 5 young adults has high blood pressure

Close to 1 in 5 young adults has high blood pressure, according to a new study, much higher than previous estimates of around 4 percent.

"We wanted to look at the health of young adults in America , and the first thing we looked at was blood pressure," said Kathleen Mullan Harris, a professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and the lead study author. "The prevalence is quite high – 19% – and we found this rather surprising," she said.

Harris and her team have been following more than 14,000 kids since 1995, in an effort to catalog their health from adolesence to adulthood. At their most recent check-in in 2008, she says, is when they discovered the very high rates of hypertension and found that close to 37% were obese.

Harris believes the increase can be attributed largely to the obesity epidemic in America, combined with a diet high in sodium-laden processed foods and very little exercise.

Making matters worse, she says, is that most of the 24-32-year-olds in the study had no idea there was a problem.

"What's especially alarming that among those measured with high blood pressure, only 25% had been told previously that they had high blood pressure," Harris said.

The reason? She believes it's because the so-called "young invincibles" – young people who believe they're too young to have health problems – simply don't see their doctors regularly.

"Young people are thought to be relatively healthy, they're busy building careers and families," she said. "We need to get them to see their doctors, or to check their blood pressure in a drug store, or even in a gym."

The biggest danger, Harris says, though, is that high blood pressure often doesn't have any symptoms.

"This is a sleeping epidemic," she said. "You dont feel any different even though your blood pressure is high, but it's doing permanent damage to your brain, heart, kidneys and your eyes."

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Filed under: Heart • Nutrition • Obesity

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.