Better Health, One Haircut at a Time
Barbers across the country are helping their customers identify and prevent health problems. For Black men, these trusted relationships can be a lifesaver.
// By Althea Fung //
We all know the trope — men don’t like to visit the doctor. Unfortunately, for Black men, the cliché has all too real consequences. Black men avoid regular doctor visits at rates higher than their counterparts. As a result, Black men between the ages of 45 and 54 die of a stroke at a rate three times higher than white men of the same age group. Black men are also 2.5 times more likely to die from prostate cancer and develop high blood pressure at a younger age than the rest of the population.
To help improve outcomes within the Black male community, health systems, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations have partnered with a somewhat unusual ally: barbers. In the Black community, barbershops and beauty salons are more than places to get your hair done. They often are places to hang out and, for some, a sanctuary. Across the country, barbers have taken on the role of health care advocate, and the barbershop has become a place for health care professionals to educate, perform screenings, and provide referrals to members of the Black community.
These interventions have proven successful. For example, according to an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, in a Los Angeles-based barbershop health initiative, 60 percent of participants with high blood pressure saw their blood pressure lower to healthy levels, which were sustained for at least a year when they were prescribed medication by a pharmacist at a barbershop. Additionally, the program improved responsible sexual behavior among low-income Black men at increased risk of contracting HIV. After the intervention, 64 percent of men in the program reported not having condomless sex.
The following reviews some successful partnerships between barbers and health care providers to connect Black men to care.