Each of the 319 barbershop clients in the study had hypertension, defined as an average systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg or higher (that’s the maximum pressure exerted on the arteries when the heart is pushing blood through the body). They were randomly assigned to an intervention group or a control group.
Uncontrolled hypertension is one of the biggest health problems facing the African-American community, health officials say. It affects blacks more often, and at an earlier age, than whites and Hispanics, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 43 percent of black men have high blood pressure, compared to 34 percent of white men and 28 percent of Mexican Americans, CDC data show.
Stress related to racial discrimination, mistrust of the medical system and less frequent use of health care services and medications, are some of the reasons why African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure, according to the CDC. Undetected hypertension can lead to heart and kidney damage as well as strokes and heart attacks.
Blyler said she and the team understood the mistrust, which is why they chose barbershops, traditionally a common venue for community gatherings in black neighborhoods.
“When you meet people where they are, there is a different level of trust and respect that’s earned,” Blyler said. “I think that’s why this intervention was ultimately so successful.”
But there were still some challenges gaining the trust of the barbershop patrons, Blyler observed.
“The hurdle we had to get over was getting them to trust me, to trust that the medication I was prescribing was good for them, that it wasn’t an experiment and I wasn’t somehow financially benefiting from drug companies,” she said.
Once she earned their trust, the men were not shy about sharing their health history, Blyler said. “Many openly admitted to not going to see their doctors for long periods despite knowing they had high blood pressure and other untreated conditions.”
The Los Angeles study was led by Dr. Ronald Victor, a cardiovascular physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who secured the $8.5 million grant to study LA’s black-owned barbershops.