Living Near Highways May Raise High Blood Pressure Risk

Hypertension risks were greater for postmenopausal women dwelling close to major roadways

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Living close to a major roadway may have negative effects on health. One such negative effect is the possibility of developing high blood pressure, a condition that can lead to serious health problems like heart attack and stroke.

A research team at Brown University in Providence, RI studied how living near major roadways might be linked to increased risk of high blood pressure and heart problems.

The researchers found that postmenopausal women who lived within a close distance of major roadways were at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure than those who lived further away.

According to the study, published Oct. 1 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, an estimated 80 percent of Americans live within a city. And the percentage of those moving into cities has increased yearly.

“I think in the United States this study does tip the scale in favor of being concerned about the urban environment and how we develop our cities and our transportation systems,” said study author Dr. Gregory Wellenius, assistant professor at the Brown University School of Public Health, in a press release.

Lead study author Kipruto Kirwa, MPH, and colleagues reviewed study data obtained from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a study funded in the mid-1990s by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

For this study, researchers used WHI data from 5,400 postmenopausal women in the San Diego, CA area who indicated that they lived within 1,000 meters (0.62 miles) or less of a highway or major roadway. The women included in the study were between the ages of 59 and 71.

The study assessed where the participants lived, distance to supermarkets and restaurants, blood pressure levels, physical activity and known medical conditions, among other factors.

The researchers found that women who lived within 100 meters (0.06 miles) of a highway or major roadway had a 22 percent greater risk of having high blood pressure than women who lived at least 1,000 meters (0.62 miles) away.

The elevated risks reported in the study accounted for a combination of other heart risk factors, including age, location, health, lifestyle and even local fast food availability.

Dr. Wellenius indicated that while specific causes for increased high blood pressure rates when living near highways are unknown, pollution and loud noise may play a role. He specified that even when treated, high blood pressure carries heart disease risks and prevention is important.

“The public health message is that we need to take into consideration the health of the population when planning neighborhoods, when planning transportation systems, and when deciding where new highways are going to go, and how we might be able to mitigate traffic or its effects,” Dr. Wellenius said.

This study was funded by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health and Brown University.

The researchers reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 30, 2014
Last Updated:
October 8, 2014