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Senior Latino woman checking her blood pressure

A new study of the social and economic factors influencing the management of high blood pressure among older adults in Latin America has significant implications for Hawaiʻi residents. Spearheaded by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa public health researchers Catherine Pirkle and Tetine Sentell, the study, published in Global Heart, explores individual to community-level influences on knowledge and control of high blood pressure, a leading cardiovascular disease risk factor.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than a billion people worldwide have high blood pressure, with 30% of adults in Latin America reporting being diagnosed with the condition.

Awareness and control challenges

In the study involving 803 older adults (65–74 years) in two large cities in Brazil and Colombia, more than 70% of participants had high blood pressure. While more than 80% were aware of their hypertension, control rates varied between 30% (Brazil) and 50% (Colombia).

This aligns with broader research indicating that many older adults in both Latin America and Hawaiʻi are unaware of their high blood pressure. Even when awareness exists, controlling hypertension proves challenging, heightening the risks of stroke, heart attack, and premature death.

To enhance hypertension management, the study explores diverse factors impacting awareness and control beyond medication usage. Social determinants such as income, education, engagement with family and friends, and community involvement play crucial roles.

“Our study emphasizes that social activities are very important for blood pressure control, and also support other desirable public health outcomes including exercise and community engagement,” said Pirkle, the lead investigator. “We also confirm that continuing to build access to quality healthcare will help to increase awareness for blood pressure control.”

Applying lessons to Hawaiʻi

Related story: Improving hypertension diagnosis with innovative tech, colllaboration

Applying insights from the global research to Hawaiʻi, a recent study by this team indicates that more than 50% of adults in outpatient clinics have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. The research from South America shows that while medication is pivotal, community engagement and activities emerge as significant factors.

“Individual demographic and health characteristics, as well as engaging in community activities and being active in community settings, were linked to hypertension awareness and control. This is valuable in Hawaiʻi where community is so important,” said Sentell.

This was a collaboration by researchers at UH Mānoa Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health and Brown University in the United States, the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, and the University of Caldas in Colombia.

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