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For Black Men in US, How a Haircut Could Mean a Longer Life

Dwight Woods has his blood pressure checked by Meghan Welsh at Flotrin's Barber Shop in St. Louis in this file photo
Dwight Woods has his blood pressure checked by Meghan Welsh at Flotrin's Barber Shop in St. Louis in this file photo

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A neighborhood barbershop might seem to some Americans like a thing of the past. Today men often get their hair cut at the same salons as women.

But the traditional barbershop still holds a special place in black culture. A barbershop is a place of trust where men can talk about things they might not want women to hear. This is why black-owned barbershops increasingly offer more than just a haircut. Men also receive health education and testing that could save their life.

Right now a program called the Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program is traveling to fifty cities across the United States. A doctor started the program in California in two thousand seven. It tests men for diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions, and provides information about how to stay healthy.

Black men are three times more likely than white men in the United States to die from high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. They are also more likely to get diabetes.

A new study has examined the barbershop health-care model in Dallas, Texas. The study involved about one thousand three hundred customers at seventeen black barbershops.

Researchers had the barbers at eight of the shops continue to just give haircuts. The other barbers learned how to measure blood pressure and offered it with every haircut.

If a customer had a high blood pressure, the barber would intervene. The customer would be urged to see a doctor. If the man did not have a doctor, then a visit to one would be set up. Customers who went to a doctor would get their next haircut free of charge.

The study lasted ten months. All of the men had their blood pressure taken at the start. They also received educational materials about hypertension.

The study found that blood pressure rates decreased at the shops where the barbers intervened and also at those where they did not. But the difference was in the amount.

Twenty percent of the men who were urged to see a doctor got their blood pressure down to a healthy level. So did only eleven percent of the men who just got haircuts.

Researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles did the study, reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Doctor Ronald Victor, the study leader, says barbers historically were members of the medical profession. So he thinks it makes a lot of sense for today's barbers to act as "health care extenders" by sharpening their skills.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. You can comment on our reports on our website, I’m Steve Ember.