GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Cutting back on salt reduces the risk of heart disease. So does exercising.
Now, barber William Byers Jr. just needs to get that message across to customers who sit in his chair.
He is taking part in a community initiative launched Feb. 24 by the Triad branch of the American Heart Association and BlueCross and BlueShield of North Carolina to improve heart health among minorities.
“I think we can really make a difference,” said Byers, who runs the Barr-Ber Shop in Glenwood.
A disproportionate share of minorities, especially African Americans and Hispanics receive diagnoses of high blood pressure, diabetes and other conditions that researchers can tie to culture and lifestyle.
The “Hair, Heart & Health” initiative is focused on reaching African Americans in the Triad and Hispanics in Charlotte and the Triangle area. A handful of barber shops and hair salons are participating, organizers said.
In the 1990s, health organizations worked with local beauticians and barbers to get the message out about AIDS prevention and saw some success.
The medical community hopes to repeat that with “Hair, Heart & Health.” They see barbers and stylists as the perfect allies in trying to curb the high rates of treatable and preventable ailments, such as diabetes, whose outcomes can often be changed through exercise, checkups and better food choices.
Through the program, hair professionals get a bloodpressure cuff to monitor heart rate — just like the ones used by physicians — as well as educational materials.
“It’s being on the front line,” said Danette Hampton of Black Nurses Rock, a group that is working with the American Heart Association to train participants.
The medical community wants to build on the traditional role of hair professionals, whose conversations with customers are often likened to a kind of therapy.
That’s because there’s a trust factor people have with their local barber or beautician, said Dr. David Wagner, the medical director at N.C. A&T, during the initiative’s kickoff on Feb. 24 at the Hot Seat Salon in downtown Greensboro.