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For the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, dubbed Add Health, funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill asked 14,000 men and women between the ages of 24 and 32 about their high blood pressure history and then took blood pressure readings of participants.

High blood pressure (hypertension) was defined as 140/90 millimeters of mercury or higher. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a normal blood pressure is 120/80 or less.The researchers found that 19% of participants had high blood pressure.

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“We were surprised by the figure,” says Kathleen Mullan Harris, a principal investigator of the study and professor of sociology at UNC. “Nobody really knows or had known what the prevalence was of high blood pressure among young adults. This is the first estimate we have on this.”

The findings, published online in Epidemiology today, are significantly higher than other recent research from another large, ongoing health study, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which found only 4% of adults 20 to 39 have high blood pressure.

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