Barber shops and beauty salons are doing more than just hair. They are teaching the community about cardiovascular disease, diabetes and HIV/AIDS.
The phrase "meeting people where they are" is especially important when it comes to teaching people about pressing health issues, especially if people do not have the best access to preventative health care. So where are some non-traditional places where people can get the message about issues ranging from diabetes, STIs, HIV/AIDS and prostate cancer?
Believe it or not, more and more hair salons and barber shops across the country are serving as the bridge between the community and that crucial health information. Last week, Reuters ran an interesting article about how the Arthur Ashe Institute has been working with Harlem-based establishments to raise awareness around health issues.
The article opens in Denny Moe's Superstar Barbershop, where a barber is testing one of his customer's blood pressures in the chair. If clients' pressures are high, the barber gets him into contact with a doctor who works is linked to the program.
The machines arrived at the Denny Moe's Superstar Barbershop in New York's historic African-American neighborhood of Harlem in May, making it only one of the latest examples of barbers and beauty salons in predominantly Black or immigrant neighborhoods doubling up as dispensaries of informal health advice alongside more usual perms and trims.
Across the country, healthcare workers are trying to harness the unique status of the barber and the unusually intimate rapport he can develop with his regular clients. A man may be barely on nodding terms with the guy who runs his laundromat, and yet confess every hope, fear and peccadillo once he's seated in the barber's chair.
"If someone is six inches from your ear and they have seen you at your worst and your best, then who better to give a health message?" Ruth Browne, the chief executive officer of the Brooklyn-based Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, said in an interview.
While this may raise some eyebrows, past studies have shown that these initiatives are effective in attacking health disparities. Reuters reported that studies have found that men with hypertension were more likely to seek treatment and get their blood pressure under control if they regularly saw a barber who took their blood pressure rather than one who didn't. But other stories have shown similar success with screenings for other ailments such as diabetes, strokes and heart disease.
Why are these types of initiatives important?
Obviously the disconnect between the health care system and Black men is a major reason as to why these programs are helping. Recently, it was reported that Black men receive "better" health care in prison than they do in the outside world. Reuters discussed some of the barriers to health care for Black men:
Joseph Ravenell, an assistant professor of medicine at New York University and a physician who has focused on Black men's health issues, said that hypertension - often associated with a high-sodium diet and insufficient exercise - and colon cancer are the two biggest killers of Black men.
"Black men unfortunately are overrepresented in professions that are less likely to be insured," he said. "There's also a history of a distrust of the healthcare system which we think keeps some Black men from visiting the doctor. We try to overcome that barrier by going to the settings where Black men are more comfortable."
Don't worry ladies: African-American hair salons have also been incorporating these health awareness programs as well to discuss issues around breast cancer, STI checks, HIV/AIDS and heart disease.
(Photo: Reuters/SHANNON STAPLETON/LANDOV)