Men's Health : Barbershops to Promote Healthy Lifestyles

Paul A. Specht, Eastern Wake News, Zebulon, N.C.

If there's a topic that's off-limits in Andrew Armstrong's barbershop, he hasn't found it.

Conversation could shift from the ball game to someone's "love game" in a matter of seconds, he says.

So, why not a customer's diet? Or, his exercise regimen?

Researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill and NC Central University see barbershops as a social arena with unique sway in the black community -- one that could prove useful in promoting healthier lifestyles among black men, who are one of America's most at-risk demographics.

This month, they kicked-off a study of local barbers' influence on their customer's physical activity by enrolling 560 black men in the program at 15 barbershops in Durham, Wake, and Orange counties. Participants are asked to log their hours physical activity and report it to researchers. Some agree to wear accelerometers. And, after six months, they're asked to participate in an intervention hosted by researchers at their local barbershop.

"Black men suffer higher rates of cancer, diabetes, and obesity than almost every other demographic," said Laura Linnan, a co-project leader and health behavior scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Global Public Health. "We want to know: Can useful health information delivered in a barbershop change the trends?"

The need for change is urgent. In North Carolina, 58 percent of black men aren't getting the recommended amount of physical activity, according to the National Cancer Institute, which is funding this study. That's 3 percent higher than the national average.

Linnan says the study is a "win-win" for scientists and participants.

After interventions, some barbershops will be randomly assigned to participate in a physical activity competition or receive free financial empowerment seminars. Those in the physical activity competition will receive tutelage from researchers on effective exercise regimens. Every participant gets a $12 coupon for a haircut after the assessment, and $30 for keeping comprehensive activity logs.

But, its the strong barber-customer bond -- not the incentives -- responsible for strong interest thus far.

Armstrong, the barber, volunteered his shop for the study to "help his customers out in any way I can."

"I tell them, this will be good for you and other people like you," he said.

Likewise, regulars say they wouldn't consider signing up if not for their barber's recommendation.

"This is my barbershop. I drive all the way from Raleigh to get here," said Milton Terry, 40. "So, you know, if it's involved with something good, I'll do whatever I can to help out."

Specht: 919-829-4826

(c)2012 the Eastern Wake News (Zebulon, N.C.)

Visit the Eastern Wake News (Zebulon, N.C.) at

Distributed by MCT Information Services