The National High Blood Pressure Education Program (NHBPEP) was launched 20 years ago based on data from population studies and clinical trials that showed high blood pressure (HBP) was a major unsolved--but soluble--mass public health problem. The present review summarizes recent data from US prospective population studies on blood pressure--systolic (SBP), diastolic (DBP)--and cardiovascular risk. The outcome variables include blood pressure-related risks, primarily incidence and mortality from coronary heart disease, stroke, other and all cardiovascular diseases (CVD); also cardiac abnormalities (roentgenographic, electrocardiographic, echocardiographic); also, all-cause mortality and life expectancy. Data accrued during the past 20 years confirm that SBP and DBP have continuous, graded, strong, independent, etiologically significant relationships to the outcome variables. These relationships are documented for young, middle-aged, and older men and for middle-aged and older women of varying socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicity. Among persons aged 35 years or more, most have SBP/DBP above optimal (< 120/< 80 mm Hg); hence, they are at increased CVD risk, ie, the blood pressure problem involves most of the population, not only the substantial minority with clinical HBP. For middle-aged and older persons, SBP relates even more strongly to risk than DBP; at every DBP level, higher SBP results in greater CVD risk and curtailment of life expectancy. A great potential exists for improved health and increased longevity through control of the blood pressure problem. Its realization requires a strategy combining population wide and high-risk approaches, the former to prevent rise of blood pressure with age and to achieve primary prevention of HBP by nutritional-hygienic means; the latter to enhance detection, treatment, and control of HBP. The newly expanded goals of the NHBPEP, aimed at implementing this broader strategy for the solution of the blood pressure problem, merit active support from physicians and all health professionals.