Despite the tense media image of Jerusalem after years of terror attacks, young adults in the capital have the lowest rate of high blood pressure compared to other cities in the country. Magen David Adom learned this by studying data collected during a Blood Pressure Awareness Day last November. Nevertheless, the average rate of hypertension among young Israelis is a worrisome 20%. Chronic high blood pressure can increase the danger of heart attack, stroke, cardiac and kidney insufficiency and blindness. The first aid, ambulance and blood supply organization said that at the initiative of the Israel Hypertension Society and in cooperation with the Health Ministry and the Israel Forum for the Prevention of Heart and Blood Vessel Diseases, its staff and volunteers tested the blood pressure of 6,600 adults at shopping malls and workplaces around the country. The average age was 44 and most were under 50. Twelve percent reported that they had hypertension (but not all were getting treatment), while 62% said their blood pressure was normal and the rest didn't know. In fact, half of those examined were found to be overweight and have high blood pressure, with 20% of the overweight being actually obese. Hypertension is directly linked to being overweight. MDA said that while people have thermometers at home to test for fever, few have sphygmomanometers to test their blood pressure - even though hypertension is far more dangerous than fever. Among those who said they didn't know if they had hypertension, 30% were found to have high blood pressure in the MDA test. Prof. Ehud Grossman, head of internal medicine at Sheba Medical Center, commented that "awareness of hypertension should be increased, blood pressure tested more often, treatment improved and the population educated for a healthier way of life to reduce the danger of heart and vascular diseases." As a result of its findings, MDA has launched a prevention and information drive that includes public workshops for hypertension awareness, nutrition and exercise. Sphygmomanometers for measuring blood pressure will be sold at these events. More information can be obtained from MDA's Web site at www.mdais.org, or at your nearest MDA station. RELIGION AFFECTS BLOOD PRESSURE And now a study from - of all places - Jackson, Mississippi may explain why blood pressure in Jerusalem - a more "religious" city than most others in Israel - is lower than in the rest of the country. Research on 5,000 African Americans found that individuals involved with religious activities had significantly lower blood pressure than those who were not, despite being more likely to be classified as hypertensive, having higher levels of body mass index and being less likely to take blood pressure medication. The findings, presented recently at the 21st Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society of Hypertension in New York, show that the integration of religion and spirituality - attending religious services and praying - may buffer individuals exposed to stress and delay the deleterious effects of hypertension. Study author Dr. Sharon Wyatt, from the University of Mississippi Medical Center and her team examined 5,302 participants to evaluate the effects of religion and spirituality on blood pressure. These variables were assessed with several questionnaires that examined organized religious activities (church attendance, watching religious TV programs), non-organized religious activities such as private prayer and meditation, religious coping (integration of religious beliefs into decision-making during times of stress) and daily spiritual experiences (interaction with God). Potentially confounding and explanatory variables including selected demographic (age, gender, socioeconomic status), sociocultural (race, social support), psychological (depression, stress), and physiological (cortisol) were included in the statistical models. ANOTHER WEAPON AGAINST NICOTINE ADDICTION The US Food and Drug Administration's recent approval of Champix, a new drug from Pfizer that has been found to help smokers kick the habit, was welcomed by the Israel Cancer Association (ICA). The prescription drug was developed to interfere with nicotine receptors in the brain and thus prevent smokers from "enjoying" their cigarettes. The ICA noted that 24% of Israelis smoke, and that according to surveys, most of them want to quit. Only about 8% who try to quit actually succeed in doing so without help. It will take about a year until Champix - which was approved by the FDA in a speeded-up procedure due to its importance to public health - is imported for sale in Israel. Until then, besides nicotine patches to wean the brain from its addiction, there are a few other prescription drugs, including Zyban (buprion) for smoking cessation. However, these may cause headaches, restlessness, sleeping problems and mouth dryness in some users, and success rates range from 14% to 25%. Pfizer claims the new drug - developed specifically to cope with the mechanism for neurobiological dependence on nicotine - has fewer side effects and is more effective.