OBJECTIVES: This study was undertaken to describe the distribution of blood pressures, hypertension prevalence, and associated risk factors among seven populations of West African origin. METHODS: The rates of hypertension in West Africa (Nigeria and Cameroon), the Caribbean (Jamaica, St. Lucia, Barbados), and the United States (metropolitan Chicago, Illinois) were compared on the basis of a highly standardized collaborative protocol. After researchers were given central training in survey methods, population-based samples of 800 to 2500 adults over the age of 25 were examined in seven sites, yielding a total sample of 10014. RESULTS: A consistent gradient of hypertension prevalence was observed, rising from 16% in West Africa to 26% in the Caribbean and 33% in the United States. Mean blood pressures were similar among persons aged 25 to 34, while the increase in hypertension prevalence with age was twice as steep in the United States as in Africa. Environmental factors, most notably obesity and the intake of sodium and potassium, varied consistently with disease prevalence across regions. CONCLUSION: The findings demonstrate the determining role of social conditions in the evolution of hypertension risk in these populations.