By Pat Melgares, K-State Research and Extension news service
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State University has launched a hypertension awareness and prevention program that officials hope will improve the health and well-being of residents in the state, which hovers just above national averages for the disease.
The Hypertension Awareness and Prevention Program is now available in several Kansas counties, hosted by K-State Research and Extension and local partners.
The counties involved in the initial kickoff include Cowley, Grant, Harvey, Phillips, Reno, Rooks, Sedgwick, Wabaunsee and Wyandotte, as well as the West Plains District (Finney and Scott), River Valley District (Clay, Cloud, Republic and Washington) and the Post Rock District (Jewell, Lincoln, Osborne, Mitchell and Smith).
Stephanie Gutierrez, an extension program coordinator in K-State’s College of Health and Human Sciences, said hypertension is another term for chronically high blood pressure. As of 2021, the United Health Foundation reports that 34.3% of Kansas adults have been diagnosed with hypertension; the national average is 32.4%.
“When your blood is pumping through blood vessels at a consistently high pressure, you develop hypertension,” Gutierrez said. “That can be detrimental because it makes your heart work harder, and it deteriorates those blood vessels, which can lead to all sorts of problems.”
The ‘problems,’ according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, include heart disease, heart failure and stroke, among other diseases.
Gutierrez said that, in Kansas, the populations that are showing a higher incidence of hypertension include those with less than a high school education, black men, individuals over age 65 and those with an annual income lower than $25,000.
“So,” she said, “we have some work to do in Kansas to make sure that we’re keeping our communities healthy.”
Sara Sawer, a registered dietitian and extension agent in K-State Research and Extension’s Sedgwick County office, said hypertension is a disease that can be managed with lifestyle changes. Those include:
- Reducing sodium intake.
- Increasing physical activity.
- Eating more nutrient dense foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) and heart healthy fats (olive oil, unsalted almonds, wanuts, fish, salmon, tuna and more).
- Eating fewer calorically dense foods (cake, cookies, pies and similar).
- Quitting smoking.
- Taking blood pressure medication as prescribed by a health care provider.
- Checking your blood pressure routinely.
“There are quite a few things we can do that include making changes in our everyday lifestyle,” Sawer said. “Even if they’re small changes, they can add up and make a big difference in regards to managing our blood pressure.”
“One thing I think is important is that people don’t take off more than they can chew. You know, if we try to change everything at once, then life tends to happen and pretty soon we get overwhelmed and then we may go back to those previous habits. It’s building small changes one by one that can add up over time and make a big difference with our health.”
The World Heart Federation lists hypertension as the No. 1 risk factor for death globally, affecting 1 billion people. The disease has a bad reputation as the “silent killer,” the organization reports, because it may show no symptoms until there are greater problems. The United Health Foundation – which publishes a report titled America’s Health Rankings each year – lists the total costs of hypertension in the U.S. at more than $51 billion.
More information about K-State’s pilot program can be directed by email to Gutierrez (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Sawer (email@example.com). Interested individuals can also contact their local K-State Research and Extension office for information