NOTE: This is an interesting idea, because historically barbers were considered part of the medical community. They performed minor surgeries, pulled teeth, performed bloodlettings, and generally maintained much more hygienic instruments than the average man of yesteryear. And while that relationship with the medical field has obviously declined in the last century, perhaps the National Institutes of Health have found a way to make a very old concept relevant to the modern world – David Michael Newstead.
By Shereen Marisol Meraji.
Barbershops are a traditional gathering place for African-American men — a place to talk politics, sports and gossip. Now, some doctors in Los Angeles are hoping to make the barbershop a place for combating high blood pressure among black men.
Death rates from hypertension are three times higher in African-American men than in white men of the same age, says Dr. Ronald Victor, the director of Cedars-Sinai Center for Hypertension in Los Angeles.
“Hypertension is one of the biggest reasons why the life expectancy of African-American men is only 69 years,” Victor says. “That’s a full decade less than white men in this country.”
This week, he received an $8.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund a study testing whether barbershop intervention could significantly lessen hypertension in African-American men. The study will involve getting barbers around the city trained to take their patients’ blood pressure. Victor is working with Dr. Anthony Reid, a cardiologist in nearby Inglewood, on the project.
Reid says most of his patients are African-American. “My patients like me, but they love the barber, and they’d much rather go to see the barber than the doctor, typically,” Reid says.
“The idea is, instead of starting out by asking patients, as usual, to come in to the hallowed halls of medicine, we’re bringing medicine to the people who need it,” Victor says.
A few years ago, Victor had success with a similar project in Dallas — albeit on a much smaller scale.
One of the barbers he worked with then, James Smith, has been shaping up, lining up and fading men’s hair in Dallas for 41 years. He says his customers are like family.
“I’m always the one asking about, ‘How’s your wife, how’s your children, how’s your mom?’ ” Smith says. “So it was easy for me to do that and say, ‘Well, look, brother, how’s your blood pressure? How’s your health?’ ”