A revolutionary research study out of the University of Calgary that followed over 3 million Canadians with high blood pressure is showing a surprising reversal in the health of our rural population.

The study tracked the participants for up to 12 years and found that men, the elderly and people living in low-income or rural areas generally have poorer health outcomes than other parts of the population.

High blood pressure or hypertension has no warning signs or symptoms and is a condition of increased force against the walls of the arteries as blood flows through them.

Hypertension can lead to heart attack, heart failure and stroke if left untreated.

Researchers have now been able to pinpoint the specific segments of the population that are at the highest risk for those types of health outcomes.

“Because the study is so large, and is based on health records from six provinces, it offers an accurate portrait of what is happening to Canadians with hypertension,” says Dr. Hude Quan, the lead author of the paper, and a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta, which is supported by Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the University of Calgary.

Risk factors include age, family history, obesity, high salt intake, high fat intake, physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol intake, stress and diabetes.

Dr. Norm Campbell is one of the study’s co-authors and says one of the interesting findings in the paper is the apparent “sad reversal” that’s taken place among the rural population.

“Traditionally, rural populations are healthy. They have regular physical activity, they tend to eat healthier, locally produced food and are leaner. What we’ve seen with the recent nutrition transition but also the development of highly mechanized machinery, is that now rural populations are much more unhealthy that urban populations. They tend to be more overweight, more sedentary and they’re eating the same processed food that are unhealthy that the rest of us are eating so we’re seeing more hypertension, more lipid problems, more obesity, more diabetes and the consequence of that is more cancers, more heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, kidney disease,” said Dr. Norm Campbell, Professor of Medicine at the U of C and Libin Institute.

Researchers say that health outcomes could be poorer for the elderly because of additional diseases or health conditions and that hypertensive men may fare worse than women because of negative lifestyle factors, such as smoking or alcohol consumption.

They say that it is well established that low-income populations generally have poorer overall health than those in higher socio-economic groups.

3.5 million people were included in the research study, 29.4 per cent were younger than 50, 35.6 per cent were aged 50-64, and 35 per cent were 65 or older. Males made up 48.2 per cent of the sample.

The study was published this month by the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.