Why do lean hypertensives have higher mortality rates than other hypertensives? Findings of the hypertension detection and follow-up program

Rose Stamler*, Charles E. Ford, Jeremiah Stamler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Specific causes of death were analyzed for 10,908 participants in the Hypertension Detection and Follow-up Program, to explore possible explanations for the observed excess 8.3-year mortality from all causes in hypertensives with low body mass. Although the cardiovascular mortality rate among men in the lowest decile of body mass (body mass index 21.96 or less) was 50% higher than that of men in the median class (body mass index 26.4-28.8), death rate for noncardiovascular deaths was more than 21/2 times higher in men with lean versus median body mass. The pattern was similar among women. Among noncardiovascular causes, striking differences in mortality rates between lean hypertensives and those of average body mass were observed for cirrhotic death (relative risk of 12+ in men and 11+ in women), for nonmalignant respiratory disease in men (relative risk of 7+), for violent death (both sexes), and for malignant neoplasms in men. Prevalence of smoking was almost twice as high in the lowest compared with the median body mass group; among the lean, excess deaths, particularly noncardiovascular deaths, were concentrated among smokers. Thus, male smokers in the lowest decile of body mass constituted only 3% of the study population, but contributed 8% of all deaths, 11% of all noncardiovascular deaths, and 22% of all cirrhotic deaths. A larger proportion of deaths occurred early in follow-up in the lean versus other hypertensives, suggesting occult disease among the lean at baseline. There was no evidence that more severe or treatment-resistant hypertension was present in or could explain excess mortality among the hypertensives with low body mass. The inference from the findings is not that overweight is protective for hypertensives nor that excess risk is due to leanness per se. Rather, a reasonable hypothesis, particularly from findings on specific causes of death, is that excess mortality in lean hypertensives is due to deleterious lifestyles, particularly smoking and excess alcohol intake, contributing to both leanness and risk of death.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)553-564
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1991


  • Clinical trials
  • Hypertension
  • Leanness
  • Lifestyle
  • Mortality
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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