Hypertension Expert Awarded 8.5 Million to Enlist African-American Barbers in Fight Against Hypertension

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Grant to Be Used to Train Barbers How to Conduct Blood Pressure Checks and Steer Patients to Lifesaving Medical Care  


Los Angeles - June 18, 2014 – A Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute physician has been awarded an $8.5 million grant aimed at enlisting African-American barbers in the fight against hypertension, a deadly condition that can cause strokes, heart attacks and organ failure, and which is particularly devastating to African-American men.

Ronald G. Victor, MD, director of the Hypertension Center in the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, was the first to subject increasingly popular barbershop-based health programs to scientific scrutiny with randomized, controlled testing. His study, published in 2011 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed that if barbers offered blood pressure checks during men's haircuts and encouraged patrons with hypertension to follow up with physicians, hundreds of lives could be saved annually.

Now, with the grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Victor is about to start a new, randomized, controlled clinical trial that will include 500 African-American male patrons of 20 Los Angeles-area barbershops. All participants will have uncontrolled hypertension and be longtime customers of the participating barbershops. The goal of the new trial is to test the effectiveness of barbershop hypertension programs and whether expanding such programs is feasible and cost-effective.

The Cedars-Sinai-led research study will be conducted in partnership with several California medical centers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 67 million – or one in every three -- American adults have high blood pressure, and less than half have their condition under control. High blood pressure costs the nation $47.5 billion each year, including the cost of healthcare, medication and missed work days. Among African-Americans, 43 percent of men and 45.7 percent of women have hypertension, compared to 33.9 percent of white men and 31.3 percent of white women.

"Uncontrolled hypertension is one of the biggest health problems facing the African-American community today," said Victor, the Burns and Allen Chair in Cardiology Research. "Hypertension is called the silent killer because there are no symptoms. We need to find a way to reach out to the community and prevent the serious complications caused by high blood pressure because all too often, by the time a patient finds out they have the condition, the heart and kidneys already have been damaged."

Since the 1980s, African-American-owned barbershops and hair salons have hosted screening programs for medical conditions that disproportionately affect African-Americans. Victor's 2011 study concludes that if hypertension intervention programs were put in place in the estimated 18,000 African-American barbershops in the U.S., it would result in the first year in about 800 fewer heart attacks, 550 fewer strokes and 900 fewer deaths.

"We hope that the new trial's outcomes will show an even greater benefit while lowering the cost of providing high-quality healthcare for hypertension in a high-risk population," Victor said.