Barber Shops Offer Blood Pressure Check, Haircuts for Black Men
For black men who don’t go to a doctor or clinic to get their blood pressure checked, offering the service to them at neighborhood barber shops may be a good compromise. That’s the finding of a new study to appear in the February 28 print issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
High blood pressure is common among black men
Among men, rates of high blood pressure are highest among blacks: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42.2 percent of black men, 24.8 percent of Mexican American men, and 31.2 percent of white men have hypertension. Blacks also develop high blood pressure at an earlier age than whites and Mexican Americans.
The current study was conducted by Ronald G. Victor, MD, who was at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, at the time of the study (March 2006 to December 2008) and now of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and his colleagues. Seventeen barber shops were included in the study.
Nine shops were randomly chosen to be the comparison group and included 695 patrons who had high blood pressure. These men were given educational pamphlets on hypertension that were for a general audience.
The 602 patrons in the eight other barber shops also had high blood pressure, and they received personalized, targeted health messaging, including exposure to posters of other hypertensive males from the same shop depicting treatment-seeking behavior. The men in these eight shops also were offered blood pressure checks by their barbers during haircuts.
After ten months, the researchers evaluated information gathered from both the control and intervention groups. Although men in both groups showed improvement in hypertension control, those in the intervention group had a 19.9 percent increase compared with an 11.1 percent increase in the control group. In addition, the rate of hypertension treatment increased 11.2 percent in the intervention group compared with only 6.2 percent in the control group.
This is not the first time bringing blood pressure control and education to black men in barber shops has met with success. In a previous study published in Hypertension in 2007, researchers conducted two nonrandomized feasibility studies to determine if an intervention program of continuous monitoring of blood pressure in barber shops reduced blood pressure more than standard screening and health education.
One study utilized the barbers themselves and the other used research personnel. Blood pressures fell and blood pressure control improved in both intervention groups while it did not in the control groups. The authors suggested that black-owned barber shops can serve as effective high blood pressure detection, referral, and follow-up centers.
Researchers with the new study also emphasize that “black-owned barbershops hold special appeal for community-based intervention trials because they are a cultural institution that draws a large and loyal male clientele and provides an open forum for discussion of numerous topics, including health, with influential peers.”
Bringing blood pressure education and control to barber shops gives new meaning to patients taking their health into their own hands. For black men, for whom uncontrolled high blood pressure is an important cause of premature disability and death, visiting a barber shop and having a “little taken off the top” could mean more than a haircut.