IOM: Lifestyle changes can help curb hypertension, cut costs

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Behavioral changes such as reducing salt intake, eating healthier and exercising could help reduce the number of Americans with hypertension by 22 percent and reduce healthcare expenditures by $17.8 billion, according to a report published by the Institute of Medicine.

High blood pressure is the culprit of one in six adult deaths per year and while 75 percent of the population agrees that having blood pressure checked is important, the numbers of those diagnosed continue to skyrocket. According to the report, a conscious effort to reduce these numbers and provide treatment for hypertension must be made.

The American Heart Association (AHA) reported that direct and indirect costs related to hypertension were a lofty $73.4 billion in 2009. Costs related to the treatment of hypertension in 2003 were $34.5 billion, according to the IOM report.

"Undiagnosed and uncontrolled cases are occurring at alarming rates, even though many people with hypertension see their doctors regularly. We think healthcare providers can do better at helping patients control their blood pressure, but what will make the biggest difference is creating environments that help people avoid the condition in the first place through healthy eating and active living,” said David Fleming, committee chair and director and health officer of Public Health.

The report suggests that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) work with private sectors to instill policies and programs that focus on behavioral and lifestyle changes such as cutting calories, focusing on low-sodium food intake, exercise and exposure to foods containing potassium to help reduce high blood pressure.

In 2004, 87 percent of U.S. adults consumed an excess amount of sodium. The report showed that reducing salt intake from 3,400 mg to 2,300 mg per day could reduce the number of those diagnosed with hypertension by 11.1 million. For overweight and obese Americans, cutting out unhealthy eating habits and losing 10 pounds could reduce the rate of hypertension by 7 to 8 percent. In addition, implementing an exercise regiment in inactive people could decrease these rates by 4 to 6 percent.

According to the report, often out-of-pocket costs to control high blood pressure get in the way of treating hypertension. However, 86 percent of patients with uncontrolled hypertension have insurance and make regular visits to the doctor. The report suggests that a bigger push to eliminate co-payments and deductibles to curb the lack of treatment could help eliminate this lack of adherence to treatment guidelines.

The report was conducted by the Committee on Public Health Priorities to Reduce and Control Hypertension in the U.S. Population.