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Taking Public Health into Barbershops

by Nancy Solomon on 12/13/2018
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SLU public health students will visit barbershops this spring, joining forces with nursing students as they help customers seeking a haircut lead healthier lives. The students are part of the Barbershop Tour, which has been sponsored by 100 Black Men for nearly a decade, a hands-on learning experience designed to reduce hypertension and promote health among African-Americans.

The Barbershop Tour participants

SLU students and faculty members are taking part in the Barbershop Tour, a public health outreach effort for African-American men. Submitted photo

SLU’s Keon L. Gilbert, DrPH, associate professor at the College for Public Health and Social Justice, and Sheila Grigsby, Ph.D., RN, assistant professor of nursing at UMSL and former SLU nursing adjunct faculty member, are the faculty co-leaders of the program. They received the 100 Black Men of Metropolitan St. Louis’s Health and Wellness award on Dec. 8.

The Barbershop Tour  began in 2009 when SLU nursing students in a public health course worked with 100 Black Men to bring their fight against hypertension into barbershops in North St. Louis and North County. Armed with blood pressure cuffs, they took readings from willing customers, explained the dangers of high blood pressure and suggested strategies to become healthier.

More than 40 percent of African-Americans have high blood pressure, and students found the barbershop is a safe and comfortable place to detect the problem and discuss how to address it.

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Keon L. Gilbert, DrPH, associate professor at SLU's College for Public Health and Social Justice, (right) and Sheila Grigsby, Ph.D., RN, UMSL assistant professor of nursing and former SLU nursing adjunct faculty, receive the 100 Black Men of Metropolitan St. Louis's Health and Wellness award from Lennie Harrison. Submitted Photo

The program has evolved and expanded, now involving UMSL nursing students who screen for high blood pressure; a SLU nutrition and dietetics faculty member who suggests little modifications to eat healthier; and SLU public health students who promote wellness as they conduct lifestyle surveys.

“Over time we have conducted assessments with participants to understand their health needs, concerns and ability to access health care within the St. Louis metro area. These assessments have helped to inform how our students engage and communicate with men and women in the barbershops about strategies they can use to protect their health,” Gilbert said.

“They assess a range of risk factors for chronic diseases such as smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, the safety of their neighborhoods, access to medical care, a relationship with a doctor and race-related stress and discrimination and how they may raise an individual’s risk as well as the risk of a larger community. This allows students to be part of a public health program in practice.”

Lori Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at SLU, prepares familiar foods using low fat, low sugar and low sodium recipes, bringing in samples to demonstrate healthy food also can taste good.

Former SLU medical student Jonathan George developed protocols for those with dangerously high blood pressures so they can get the immediate care they need.

Gilbert is optimistic about the future of the program that gives students a first-person view of the impact of community and lifestyle on a person’s health.

“We would like for this project to reach more people and for us to more directly connect people to resources and think about ways we can continue to monitor people’s progress in improving their health,” he said.