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Nov 06, 2018

Spikes in Violent Crime Linked to Increased Blood Pressure

Study links 2015 Chicago crime surge to increased risk for high blood pressure, even in low-crime areas.

Neighborhood safety could have a direct impact on your health, based on a recent study that linked spikes in violent crime to increased blood pressure, even in safer areas. These findings will be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2018 in Chicago and highlight the importance of addressing stress when it comes to heart health.

Using medical records and police data, this study looked at crime and blood pressure trends among residents in Chicago, IL. It included 53,402 adults who underwent blood pressure readings during their visits to local health clinics in 2015, when there was a distinct surge in violent crimes like homicide, assault and robbery.

The goal of the analysis was to see whether the uptick in crime had an impact on blood pressure trends, not just in dangerous neighborhoods but in surrounding areas as well.

Overall, researchers found that more than one-third of participants in high-crime communities had high blood pressure, compared to just 23% of those in safer communities. Not surprisingly, surges in violent crimes were associated with 3% higher odds of having high blood pressure.

These findings reflect existing data that link increased crime to increased risk for high blood pressure.

However, when comparing residents from different areas, researchers found that residents in safe communities had a distinct reaction to the surge in nearby crimes. Compared to residents in high-crime areas, the 2015 crime surge was associated with a 9 percent higher odds of high blood pressure in safer neighborhoods.

What findings show, according to authors, is that the stress associated with crime rates can have a direct impact on heart health. Data also suggests that individuals don’t have to live in dangerous areas to experience the stress of violent crimes.

Authors also note that efforts to reduce and prevent violence could help improve both safety and overall public health. For example, it’s possible that crime may prevent residents from grocery shopping, picking up medications or even seeing family and friends.

“I had friends living in low-crime neighborhoods who were extremely anxious about rising crime rates in the city,” said lead study author Elizabeth Tung, MD, an instructor of medicine at the University of Chicago. “Crime, and particularly violent crime, is a unique stressor because people prioritize safety. Safety is second in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but in many ways, it can get in the way of more basic needs, like access to healthy food.”

With additional research, experts hope to better understand the link between crime and blood pressure and develop ways to improve both safety and public health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is hypertension?
  • Hypertension, often referred to as high blood pressure, occurs when the force of blood against the artery walls is too high. High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer,” because it often causes no symptoms and if left uncontrolled, increases risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Who is at risk for high blood pressure?
  • Risk for hypertension increases with age, and most adults will eventually be affected by this condition at some time in their lives. However, diabetes, obesity, stress, high sodium intake, tobacco use and excessive alcohol use can greatly increase risk for high blood pressure.

Infographic: High Blood Pressure


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