In recent years, medical researchers and health care workers have had surprising success bringing important health screenings to African American men in a unique, yet familiar setting: the neighborhood barber shop. That’s because barber shops have historically been an oasis for black men, a place not only to get your hair trimmed but also to catch up with your buddies and the neighborhood gossip.
The most recent example occurred in New York City, where health workers set up in barber shops tested nearly 300 black men for diabetes. The results were remarkable: nearly 30% of the men met the criteria for prediabetes, and 10% did the same for diabetes. None of the customers knew they were at such risk.
The teams used tests that yielded results within five minutes with a 93% accuracy rate. Still, the men were referred for further testing, which confirmed the initial results. All of the men screened were over age 18 without a history of diabetes, sickle cell disease or recent blood loss.
Providing health interventions at barber shops began in a 2018 hypertension experiment in Los Angeles. Those screenings not only found high levels of undiagnosed hypertension, but the men who followed the barber’s advice and met with a pharmacist set up on-site had an average systolic blood pressure drop of 27 points six months later.
The researchers said barbers can be strong advocates for their customers to not only get screened but to also seriously address the problems the results indicate. And doing so in a nonthreatening place removed barriers to care such as scheduling, costs and lack of insurance.
A great haircut and better health: talk about a full-service barber shop!