Eating out = high blood pressure?

A recent study on university-going young adults, by researchers from the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore (Duke-NUS), is the first ever to show an association between meals eaten away from home and high blood pressure. These findings highlight lifestyle factors that can affect hypertension and emphasise the importance of being aware of the salt and calorie content in food, to facilitate better meal choices when eating out.

Globally, high blood pressure, or hypertension, is the leading risk factor for death associated with cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that young adults with pre-hypertension, or slightly elevated blood pressure, are at very high risk of hypertension. Eating meals away from home have been shown to be associated with higher caloric intake, higher saturated fat intake and higher salt intake. These eating patterns are thought to cause high blood pressure.

Duke-NUS Professor Tazeen Jafar designed and supervised a study to find behaviours associated with hypertension in a young adult population in Southeast Asia. Her team, including Duke-NUS medical student Dominique Seow, surveyed 501 university-going young adults aged 18 to 40 years in Singapore. Data on blood pressure, body mass index and lifestyle, including meals eaten away from home and physical activity levels, were collected. Their association with hypertension was then determined.

Using statistical analysis, the team found that pre-hypertension was found in 27.4% of the total population, and 38% ate more than 12 meals away from home per week; while the gender breakdown showed that pre-hypertension was more prevalent in men (49%) than in women (9%). Those who had pre-hypertension or hypertension were more likely to eat more meals away from home per week, have a higher mean body mass index, have lower mean physical activity levels, and be current smokers.

The novel finding in this study is the link that Dr. Jafar’s team was able to show between pre-hypertension and hypertension with meals eaten away from home. What is also significant is that even eating one extra meal out, raised the odds of prehypertension by 6%.

“While there have been studies conducted in the United States and Japan to find behaviours associated with hypertension, very few have surveyed a Southeast Asian population,” said Dr. Jafar, who is from the Health Services and Systems Programme at Duke-NUS. “Our research plugs that gap and highlights lifestyle factors associated with pre-hypertension and hypertension that are potentially modifiable, and would be applicable to young adults globally, especially those of Asian descent.”

The findings in this study can be used to modify behaviour through changes in clinical and policy recommendations. Clinicians can intervene to advise young adults to modify their lifestyle behaviours while food policy changes can be made to regulate salt and fat in eateries. Clinicians can also advise younger male patients that they are at higher risk for pre-hypertension in order to make them more aware of their predisposition to the condition.

Future studies should examine the effect of lifestyle modification programmes on blood pressure levels on the at-risk population found in this study. Dr. Jafar’s team plans to lead a related intervention study on prevention of hypertension among young adults in Singapore.

This study was published online on 19 Mar 2015 in the American Journal of Hypertension and was supported by the Duke-NUS Signature Research Programme, with funding from the Singapore Ministry of Health.

6 thoughts on “Eating out = high blood pressure?”

  1. Well, Njabulo that is what they try to say-food we eat at home is not the same as ready-made food that we buy out.

  2. Honestly speaking one can never be too comfortable when eating out because these people after all are just making business, they could care less how they get the money coming in just as long as it is. When eating at home you can manage how much of something you take in because you prepare the meals whereas eating out you can’t, you just have to settle for what you are given regardless of it fat and salt content.

  3. It is true that the food we eat affect our health directly. Hypertension is associated with an increase in salt (sodium) intake, a decrease in consumption of potassium and the presence of saturated fats and trans-fats. I believe that eating food at home or away should not be related to increase in high blood pressure because one may be taking fatty and salty food af home yet they take fruits and vegetable which are protective againsf high blood pressure while away.

  4. I think it is more about the foods on the menus of restaurants and that people are only allowed to choose from certain foods, and then are inclined to choose the foods that contain the most fats. When for example you buy and cook your own food, you have a better idea of the amounts of substances going into your food. What happens if the restaurant adds substances into the foods to try make them less salty or fatty or hide the salty taste and then what happens to those people who are allergic to these added substances but not the food?

  5. Well, I think that this idea of food intake should be clarified further because one may be fond of eating fatty food at home whereas at work, their company provides a healthy diet.

  6. When you saying that eating out = high blood pressure, due to the food content having too much salt and fat. Basic you trying to say that the food we eat at home is not the same food we eat out?… Meaning that the food at home have less salt and fat.
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