A safe haven. A country club. A place where people can be themselves: That is how patrons and shop owners describe U.S. barbershops in black neighborhoods.
“The barber-client relationship is a very special one,” Herman Muhammad, owner of Supreme Style Barbershop in Denver, told The Nation’s Health. “The guys sitting in your chair usually have done so for years. There is a sense of trust there.”
For decades, health professionals have leveraged this relationship to bring care to a hard-to-reach demographic: black men. With barbers as advocates, health workers visit shops to educate and perform screenings, usually for high blood pressure. Women’s hair salons have also been included in intervention programs.
Intervention is critical because blacks, especially black men, are less likely to get regular health checkups than whites. And high blood pressure disproportionately affects black people, who are also more likely to develop complications of stroke and heart conditions than other races and ethnicities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among men, 43% of blacks have high blood pressure, compared to 34% of whites and 28% of Hispanics.
Barbershop interventions have plenty of advocates, but evidence-based studies have lagged. That changed last year when the New England Journal of Medicine published a study showing that barbershop interventions improved the health of participants. Over 300 customers at 52 Los Angeles black barbershops took part in a randomized study. About one-third of them with high blood pressure were assigned to an intervention group that prescribed a drug therapy by a pharmacist at a shop. Over 60% of participants lowered their blood pressure to healthy levels and sustained them for a year.
Barbershops are also promoting mental wellness. Black Americans are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder than other races and ethnicities, according to CDC. Yet, because of social determinants, they are also less likely to receive treatment for PTSD and other mental health conditions.
Read more on TheNationsHealth.org.