High blood pressure is widespread among African American men at least in part because they’re more likely than other people to eat a traditional Southern diet with lots of fried and fatty foods, a new study suggests.

Researchers followed 6,897 people in the South who didn’t have high blood pressure in 2003-2007, including 1,807 African American men and women. After about nine years, 46 percent of black participants and 33 percent of white participants developed high blood pressure.

Among all men, a traditionally Southern diet was associated with a 16 percent higher risk of developing high blood pressure; for women, 17 percent. As a group, African American men ate a more traditionally Southern diet than other men or women in the study, and this explained more than half of their increased risk for high blood pressure, or hypertension, researchers found.

The current study wasn’t designed to prove whether or how certain eating habits might directly impact the development of high blood pressure, but previous research has linked the DASH diet recommended by the American Heart Association to a lower risk of hypertension, said lead study author George Howard of the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Among people who follow DASH, or dietary approaches to stop hypertension, with increased lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, there isn’t as big a difference in high blood pressure rates between white and African American individuals, Howard said.

By contrast, a traditionally Southern diet is full of foods that the DASH diet advises people to avoid: fried foods, organ meats, processed meats, eggs, added fats, high-fat dairy, bread, and sodas and other sugary beverages.

For African American women in the study, the Southern diet explained 29 percent of their excess risk for high blood pressure.

— Reuters