Despite the US emphasis on a fat free lifestyle, researchers at the Mayo Clinic report that the average blood pressure in American men and women has risen alarmingly in the last 10 years.
A study of 636 individuals which monitored blood pressure at home and at work showed that for men, the average measurement was 138/80 mmHg and for women, 137/76 mmHg.
Compared with a similar study in Rochester, New York in 1986, the rates have risen by 6.6 mmHg and 3.6 mmHg, respectively.
More than half the study population had a blood pressure measurement greater than 140/90 mmHg the upper level cut off point in the US but only 16.6 per cent of them were receiving treatment to control the condition.
Nearly 40 per cent were unaware that they had raised blood pressure, whereas 10.4 per cent of those surveyed said they were aware that they had uncontrolled high blood pressure. In addition, 6.3 per cent were achieving control through diet, and 27.9 per cent were being treated with drugs which were ineffective.
In the UK, where the cut off point for hypertension is higher at 160/95 mmHg, things are somewhat better. Although figures from the 1997 Health Survey for England indicate a higher proportion of hypertensive adults than in America, 59 per cent of these were receiving treatment and 37.8 per cent had their condition controlled.
Commenting on the US study, Claude Lenfant, director of the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, said: "The biomedical community should be embarrassed, if not ashamed".
Although he suggested that more drugs should be available to all, 30 or so per cent of individuals in the study were already taking drugs but found no relief from high blood pressure (Hypertension, 1999; 34: 466-71).