Give me a shave, haircut and blood pressure check

By Inquirer Staff Writer Marie McCullough:

A new study suggests barbershops can help shave the high rates of high blood pressure among African American men.

More than 40 percent of African Americans have hypertension, reflecting genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Although the disease usually has no symptoms, it raises the risk of stroke, kidney disease, heart attack and heart failure.

The two-phase study,  conducted by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, enlisted 15 black-owned barbershops in Dallas.

By offering free blood pressure screening — plus free haircuts - the shops identified patrons with hypertension and urged them to consult physicians to get medication and counselling.

During the second phase of the study, the barbershops were randomly assigned to provide these 1,022 hypertensive patrons either with educational pamphlets, or support - specifically, blood pressure checks with each haircut and health tips.

After 10 months, 66 percent of men in the support group had good blood pressure control, up from 49 percent at the outset. To the researchers surprise, the pamphlet group also improved, although not as much. About 64 percent had good blood pressure control, up from 57 percent initially.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Baylor University Medical Center physician Clyde Yancy said the barbershop model deserves “further development.” But noting that men in the study were not poor and had ready access to conventional medical care, Yancy wondered “why must we resort to a community-driven approach” that absolves doctors of their responsibility for diagnosis and treatment.

The study and editorial were published online on Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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