Does Eating Fast Food Cause High Blood Pressure?

Reducing blood pressure is a major health concern in the United States, where more than 30 percent of adults have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke, and dietary choices play a role. For example, fast food commonly contains unhealthy amounts of sodium and fat, which can negatively affect blood pressure. Diet is a modifiable risk factor; making healthier food choices helps decrease your risk.

Two hot dogs with mustard and ketchup.
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How it Adds Up

About 90 percent of Americans eat too much sodium, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It's estimated that Americans eat on average 3,300 milligrams of sodium each day, which is more than the recommended intake of 2,300 milligrams, according to the CDC. Roughly a quarter of the sodium you eat comes from restaurant foods, estimates the CDC. Controlling your sodium intake is particularly critical as you get older, since blood pressure increases naturally with age. The risk of high blood pressure more than doubles once you reach age 35 and over.

Your Environment May Exert Influence

Researchers from multiple organizations, including the Oregon Research Institute found a link to fast food and an increase in blood pressure. They conducted a study involving middle-aged and older adults from 120 neighborhoods in Portland Oregon. The study found a correlation between the density of fast-food restaurants per neighborhood and increased blood pressure. Residents living in a neighborhood with a heavy density of fast food restaurants had higher blood pressure. Researchers also discovered a link to making regular visits to fast food restaurants and an increase in blood pressure. The results were published in the March 2009 edition of the journal "Preventative Medicine."

Impact of a Single Fast Food Meal

Even a single high fat, fast food meal exerts negative affects on blood pressure, according to a study published in "The Journal of Nutrition" in April 2007. In the study, healthy participants ate two fast food meals containing 42 grams of fat on separate occasions, or two low-fat, non-fast food meals. The high fat, fast food meals caused blood pressure to rise and the heart to beat faster, compared the group who ate a low-fat meal. This data supports evidence that excess fat, particular saturated fat, contributes to sustained high blood pressure, according to the study.

Food For Thought

Eating fast food isn't the only factor that influences blood pressure. Overall diet and level of physical activity play a role in the development of hypertension. The Oregon Research Institute study found the link to high blood pressure diminished with increased physical activity and fruit and vegetable consumption. This underscores the influence of diet and exercise in overall health status.

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