There’s a simple reason why many thin people have high blood pressure, but this reason is no excuse for obese people to deny the dangers of excess weight.

The denial goes something like this:
“I may be fat but I’m healthy. There are plenty of skinny people who have high blood pressure and get strokes and heart attacks. I’m sick of people saying that you can’t be fat and healthy.”

Usually, such statements come from clinically obese adults on the younger end of the age spectrum.

Yes, yes, thin women and men have high blood pressure. So do people with green hair, purple skin and feet as long as skis. So do fat people, short ones, bald ones, nonsmokers, runners and those who claim being abducted by aliens.

High blood pressure is ubiquitous.

“High blood pressure (hypertension) is extremely common in our society, reaching a prevalence of 50% or more in those over the age of 50 regardless of body weight,” says Morton Tavel, MD, Clinical Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, and author of “HEALTH TIPS, MYTHS, AND TRICKS: A Physician’s Advice.”

“Underlying causes are not well understood,” continues Dr. Tavel. “Although somewhat higher in the obese, hypertension is also quite common in those who are thin.”

Some Causes of High Blood Pressure in
Thin People Are the Same
As in Fat People

Dr. Tavel explains, “One major factor in the causation of high blood pressure is the daily intake of excessive sodium (salt), far greater in the general population than the upper recommended levels of approximately 2,300 milligrams daily.”

Just because a skinny individual has hypertension from a high sodium diet doesn’t mean that obesity isn’t a risk factor for hypertension!

doctor taking blood pressure

“But adding obesity to high blood pressure presents additional health problems such as diabetes, degenerative joint diseases and others,” says Dr. Tavel.

“Diabetes, even with normal blood pressure, causes the acceleration of arteriosclerosis that leads to high levels of cardiovascular diseases that are associated with strokes and heart attacks.

“Although hypertension is a risk factor in itself, when it is combined with overweight the risks are elevated in a proportion correlating with the degree of overweight.”

doctor measuring fat man's waist

If you’re quite large but currently have normal blood pressure, this normality is only a snapshot in time.

What will your BP be five years from now, even two years, when the presence of significant amounts of excess body fat may begin kicking in?

Are you waiting for the top number of the reading to get past 140 before you decide it’s time to lose weight?

Dr. Tavel continues, “One common question arises — ‘Who’s healthier when all else is considered equal: fat with normal BP, or…trim with high BP?’

“Although not subject to a simple answer, I would respond by opting for the second choice, because it’s fairly easy to control hypertension in thin people with drugs and other simple measures.

“By contrast, in the obese, effective weight control with diet is usually doomed to failure, and the elevated weight, per se, even with normal blood pressure, invites many future health problems.”

And as mentioned, your hefty body with all the heavy fat may currently, at the moment, have normal blood pressure.

And your thin sister or friend may have high BP. But so what. Their high readings and svelte bodies have absolutely nothing to do with YOUR situation: obesity.

It’s never too early to plan for your health future by taking measures now, just like it’s never too early to plan for your financial future.

More details on hypertension can be found at Dr. Tavel’s page on this so-called silent killer.

morton tavel, MD

Dr. Tavel’s medical research includes over 125 publications, editorials and book reviews in peer-reviewed national medical journals. He was formerly director of the cardiac rehabilitation program at St. Vincent Hospital in Indiana.