April 2011

Barbers Help Beat High Blood Pressure

In a new study, barbers helped to fight high blood pressure in African-American men. The findings suggest that trusted members of the community can deliver important health messages to those who need them.

About 1 in 3 adults nationwide has high blood pressure, or hypertension. African Americans are at especially high risk. Left untreated, high blood pressure can damage the heart, blood vessels and kidneys.

Your genes, diet and other lifestyle factors can affect your chances of getting high blood pressure. The low rate of preventive care among African-American men is one factor that can lead to poor blood pressure control. An NIH-funded research team set out to see if barbershop-based outreach might help African-American men beat hypertension.

The study evaluated about 1,300 black men who had hypertension and were patrons of 17 African-American-owned barbershops in Texas. In 9 of the shops, barbers offered blood pressure checks with haircuts and encouraged patrons to follow up with physicians. Patrons of the 8 comparison shops received blood pressure pamphlets written especially for African Americans.

After 10 months, both groups had improved rates of hypertension control. But the shops that offered blood pressure checks showed greater improvement. In these shops, the percentage of participants whose blood pressure dropped to recommended levels improved by 20%, compared to an 11% improvement in the shops that just handed out pamphlets.

“The barbers were the heroes of this story. They really stepped forward and made it part of their barber practice,” says researcher Dr. Robert Haley of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “They helped us show that social settings can be an integral part of health care in the black male population.”