How Black Barbershops Are Improving Men’s Heart Health

Mississippi initiative aims at testing men for high blood pressure. 

Posted: 08/11/2014 01:30 PM EDT

For the past decade, barbershops and beauty parlors haven’t just been a place to get a fade or a blow out. These spaces also serve as a great place to learn about and get tested for a range of health issues like HIV prevention, breast cancer and heart health.

Following in this tradition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention teamed up with the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) to use local barbershops to address high blood pressure among Black men. Now, they are releasing the data from this work.

Testing 700 men, researchers found the following:

—A third of the men tested had high blood pressure.

—About 50 percent of the men didn’t have high blood pressure, but were on the borderline for the chronic illness.

—Half of them were on the borderline for heart disease and didn’t know.

—Around 15 percent of the men had normal high blood pressure.

—One in four of the men had health insurance.

—More than a third were encouraged to follow-up with a doctor about their health.

While churches have been used to reach Black folks, too, health experts saw that this wasn’t the best place to reach their demographic.

Lead researcher Vincent Mendy, an epidemiologist in MSDH's Office of Preventive Health, told Health Day, “…Only 20 to 30 percent of the people we were reaching were men. So we decided we had to go to where the men are. And barbershops are a good example."

Researchers on Mandy’s team believe their recent findings are encouraging and want to lengthen the program to reach more men.

So why does these type of testing initiatives matter?

Simple: African-American men are more likely to have high-blood pressure and more likely to have it and not know. Also, Black men along with Latinos are less likely to be connected to health care and Mississippi has some of the worst health in the U.S. Having high blood pressure not knowing can lead to stroke and heart attack.

For some men, these programs are the first time that they are getting tested for any of these chronic health illnesses. And while these types of initiatives cannot bridge the gap between having health care and being uninsured, is it a step in the right direction in identifying an illness that is slowly killing us.

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 (Photo: Corbis)

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