The New Barber Shop: Haircuts, shaves, and blood pressure checks

African-American males who can have their blood pressure gauged at their local barbershop have a significantly higher chance of better hypertension (high blood pressure) control, researchers reveal in Archives of Internal Medicine.

High blood pressure, or hypertension is a condition in which blood pressure in the arteries is chronically high. The heart beats, forcing blood through the arteries to all parts of the body. Blood pressure is the force of blood that is pushing up against the blood vessel walls. The heart has to work harder to pump if that pressure is too high, raising the risk of organ damage, heart attack, heart failure, renal failure or aneurysm.

The authors explain, as background information:

Uncontrolled hypertension is one of the most important causes of premature disability and death among non-Hispanic black men. Compared with black women, men have less frequent physician contact for preventive care and thus substantially lower rates of hypertension detection, medical treatment and control.

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.

Ronald G. Victor, M.D., who was at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, and team carried out a randomized study in Dallas County, Texas involving 17 barbershops between March 2006 and December 2008; they were all owned by African-Americans.

The authors concluded:

The study addresses the newly recommended policy shift away from a traditional case-management system toward novel population-based systems and community-based support for persons with hypertension. The data add to an emerging literature on the effectiveness of community health workers in the care of people with hypertension: contemporary barbers constitute a unique workforce of community health workers whose historical predecessors were barber-surgeons.

According to the American Heart Association:

* In 2006, 51.1 per 100,000 African-American males died from hypertension, compared to 15.6 Caucasian-American males, 37.7 African-American females, and 14.3 Caucasian-American females
* 56,561 Americans died prematurely in the USA in 2006 because of hypertension
* Approximately 74.5 million Americans aged at least 20 years have hypertension
* 22.4% of Americans with hypertension are unaware of their condition
* 55.9% of Americans with hypertension do not have their condition controlled
* Hypertension is easily detected and usually controllable
* The annual number of deaths from hypertension between 1996 and 2006 rose 48.1% in the USA
* Non-Hispanic African-Americans have a significantly higher risk of developing hypertension compared to Caucasian-Americans
* African-Americans at highest risk of having hypertension are those who are overweight/obese, sedentary, with diabetes, and/or middle aged or older

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