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Southern diets ‘biggest factor’ in African-Americans increased risk of hypertension compared to whites, study says

While fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and cornbread may be delicious, it’s no secret that those foods can be harmful to your death. They may even be more detrimental to African-Americans, according to a new report.

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Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham recently conducted a study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, to explore why African-Americans may have a higher incidences of hypertension. 

“Hypertension is the single biggest contributor to racial disparities in cardiovascular disease,” lead author George Howard said in a statement. “Preventing hypertension is a critical piece of reducing health disparities in cardiovascular disease. This work identifies factors contributing to the development of high blood pressure and how they differ between African-Americans and white Americans.”

To do so, they examined nearly 7,000 older adults from a previous study and followed them for a little over nine years, tracking their cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index before and after the trial. The participants also answered questions about their health and completed questionnaires measuring their diets.

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After analyzing the results, they found blacks had higher rates of early deaths compared to whites as expected. However, they were surprised to learn southern-style diets, which can include fried fish, fried chicken, fried potatoes, sweetened beverages and processed foods, seemed to be the culprit for both black men and women. 

In fact, a southern-style diet was the main reason African-Americans were more likely to have high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, stroke and heart attack. 

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“This diet likely contributes to excess hypertension due to higher sodium intake, but it is impossible to guess at which component of this dietary pattern is the ‘silver bullet,’” coauthor Suzanne Judd said. “Likely it could be all of the foods eaten together. The combination of a high-sodium diet with excess calories from fat and sugar and limited beneficial foods containing anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals probably creates the perfect storm to make this diet less healthy.”

While salt intake and level of education were also key factors for men and women, obesity and larger waist size were additional key factors specifically among women, according to the findings.

“We know obesity is related to the development of hypertension in both men and women, but we didn’t know that it contributed differently in men and women to the racial difference in hypertension,” Howard said. 
We now know that obesity helps to explain the racial disparities between black and white women.”

The authors hope their findings will help guide efforts to reduce the “extra” risk of hypertension among African-Americans. 

“The best way to treat high blood pressure is to prevent it,” Howard said. “This study points to lifestyle changes that can be made to reduce the black-white difference in hypertension, which will in turn reduce the racial disparities in cardiovascular disease.

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