OBJECTIVES: 'High-normal blood pressure' is a factor influencing decision to initiate targeted intensive intervention strategy in westernized populations. JNC-VI offered the vigorous lifestyle modification for persons with 'high-normal blood pressure', who could be early detected. As a hypertension seems to be the result of multiple genetic factors operating in concert with associated environmental factors, it will be necessary to identify the high-normal blood pressure as a risk factor of hypertension for applying primary prevention strategy in Korean people. METHODS: Although cohort study design might be adequate to recruit incidence cases, to keep time sequence of events, and to prevent information bias, nested case-control study was chosen for avoiding measurement errors because hypertension is a benign disease. Source population was the 'Seoul Cohort' participants and follow-up was done by using Korea Medical Insurance Corporation's database on the utilization of health services from 1Jan93 to 30Jun97. Incidence cases were ascertained through the chart review, telephone contacts, and direct blood pressure measurements. Controls included the pairing of 4 individuals to each case on the basis of age. RESULTS: As 75 % of 247 incident cases had high-normal blood pressure, the crude odds ratio for hypertension was 2.04 (95% CI 1.47-2.83). Another statistically significant risk factors of hypertension were body mass index, dietary fiber, alcohol consumption, weekly activity and history of quitting smoking. The multivariate odds ratio of high-normal blood pressure adjusted for all risk factors was 1.84 (95 % CI 1.31-2.56). Among high-normal blood pressure group, body mass index, weekly ethanol amounts, weekly physical activity, and dietary fiber except history of quitting smoking were still risk factors of hypertension. CONCLUSION: 'High-normal blood pressure' is a risk factor for hypertension in Korean middle-aged men, which represents that the vigorous lifestyle modification for persons with 'high-normal blood pressure' is need.