Researchers look for Stone Mountain barbershop to help with hypertension project

Mercer University researchers Jenn Nguyen, left, and Gina Ryan, right, are recruiting a barbershop in Stone Mountain to launch a hypertension project. Photos courtesy Mercer University.

Stone Mountain, GA — Mercer University is launching a project that will put pharmacists into local barbershops to improve the health of Black men.

Jenn Nguyen and Gina Ryan, two faculty members from the school’s College of Pharmacy, are actively looking for a barbershop in Stone Mountain with a predominantly Black clientele to partner with them. They want to train barbers and stylists to screen for blood pressure, discuss the importance of taking medications and living a healthy lifestyle with their clients.

“The long-term goal of the project is to address the high rates of uncontrolled blood pressure in the Black community,” Nguyen told The Tucker Observer.

Hypertension affects about one-third of Americans, according to Nguyen. But Black men are disproportionately impacted, with about 60 percent of them being diagnosed with the condition. And the death rate for Black men who have uncontrolled blood pressure is nearly two-fold compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

Some studies found that about 75 percent of Black people are likely to develop high blood pressure by age 55, according to Nguyen. So she and Ryan are targeting Black men ages 30 to 55 with the barbershop project.

The Georgia Department of Public Health initially approached Nguyen and Ryan about partnering up to address blood pressure and cardiovascular risk in DeKalb County. GDPH and the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors gave the pair $24,340 in funding to launch the project.

“We know that barbers wear many ‘hats’ in the barbershop,” Nguyen said. “We’d like for them to wear an additional one — to provide some blood pressure education and screening.”

“We want to normalize barbers taking the blood pressure reading. Just as common as the barbershop draping the cape around their client, so will the blood pressure cuff around their arm,” she added.

Nguyen and Ryan eventually want to expand the project to other barbershops and into beauty shops as well. But first they have to find a shop to partner with them, which has been made difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Men are reluctant to come down to the barbershop for a cut or to socialize,” Nguyen said.

Barbershops in Stone Mountain interested in partnering up for the project can email Nguyen at [email protected] or Ryan at [email protected].

“We want to make sure that these efforts can happen, that these efforts will last for years to come, and that we are only adding to the business model of the barbershop versus being a distraction or hindrance,” Nguyen said. “While it might take some getting used to, we hope that clients will become very familiar and open with their barbers taking their blood pressure.”

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