You’ll Probably Have High Blood Pressure If You Live in This State — and Here’s Why

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a serious problem. It occurs when the blood cells retain water, making it harder for them to travel through the body and deliver oxygenated blood. People with high blood pressure often have thicker artery walls, which get clogged more easily and lead to serious complications such as heart disease or a heart attack. But certain states have much higher blood pressure rates than others. These are the top five states with the highest blood pressure rates* — and why.

Fast food

There are several contributing factors to high hypertension rates. | Mukhina1/Getty Images

5. Kentucky

Hypertension rate: 39.4%

Kentucky has the fifth highest hypertension rate in the country with 39.4% of adults living with high blood pressure. High blood pressure is directly related to obesity, and Kentucky ranks eighth in obesity in the U.S. The state doesn’t have any regulations on specific dietary standards, which means residents don’t always easily have access to healthy meal options. The state also doesn’t require children of any school age to participate in physical education classes.

4. Mississippi

Hypertension rate: 40.8%

More than 40% of Mississippi’s adult population is battling high blood pressure. High blood pressure often stems from poor health habits, which can develop at a young age. In Mississippi, 37% of kids ages 10 to 17 are either overweight or obese, which sets a poor standard for their adult lives. The state does have physical education requirements for elementary and middle schools but not high schools. There is also no set standard of “physical activity” defined by the state.

3. Arkansas

Hypertension rate: 41.3%

Arkansas has no shortage of high blood pressure. Besides being third in the nation for hypertension, it also has the highest rate of high-school-aged obesity in the nation, with 21.7% of students meeting that criteria. Early habits tend to only get worse as the years go on, which leaves it no surprise that Arkansas has such a high hypertension rate. The state doesn’t require physical education in high schools, nor does it regulate a set standard for physical activity.

2. Alabama

Hypertension rate: 41.9%

Alabama’s hypertension rate is just shy of breaking that 42% mark. The state doesn’t supply data on its high school obesity rates, but it does have a youth overweight and obesity rate that is a combined 35.5%. Alabama also ranks third in the nation for diabetes rate; diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease often go together and typically stem from major nutritional problems.

1. West Virginia

Hypertension rate: 43.5%

West Virginia has the highest hypertension rate in the nation at 43.5%. It’s also the most obese state in the nation, with 38.1% of its adult population obese. It ranks No. 1 in diabetes rates, too. West Virginia has major health problems, but it does require physical education classes for elementary and middle school children. It also has a defined physical activity standard, which means it could be taking steps to reduce its obesity rate and health problems.

Several factors contribute to hypertension rates in these states

Hypertension can’t be blamed on any one thing. Rather, it’s a combination of several factors that lead adults to having major health problems.

Minimal state requirements: Most of these states don’t have defined physical activity standards. They also don’t require physical education classes for high school children (with some not requiring them for younger children, either). This means children ages 14-17 are getting very little regular exercise. If states required gym class for youth, it would help them to develop healthier habits in the years where it matters most.

More poverty than other states: All five of these states are in the south, and all five of them are some of the poorest states in the nation. Families living below the poverty line often can’t afford to spend the extra money on fruits and vegetables. Processed foods are less expensive but also result in a much unhealthier diet. Over time, that diet contributes to weight gain and other health problems.

Easy access to unhealthy food: In addition to these states not being the wealthiest, they’re also located in the south, which is loaded with fast food restaurants. Alabama has the highest number of fast food restaurants per capita, so it’s no surprise it’s also on the list for highest hypertension rates.

*All statistics courtesy of stateofobesity.org.

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