TEXT OF STORYLISA NAPOLI: Here’s a captive audience for marketers: The barber’s chair. Public health officials are turning to hair salons and barbershops to deliver health information. From WCPN in Cleveland, Mhari Saito reports.
MHARI SAITO: Henry Jenkins doesn’t go to his local barbershop just for a haircut. He goes to chat with friends who drop in from the neighborhood. That was the plan on a fall day in 2005, but a nurse was there offering free health screenings.
HENRY JENKINS: So the other barbers there say ‘Well you’re a senior citizen, you’re 64 years old. You should, while you got a chance and it’s right here before you, take it. You know, don’t be hardheaded.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ll take it some other time.’
Jenkins says that’s usually his answer whenever anyone tells him to go to the doctor. But the barbers, his friends, didn’t let up. It turned out that Jenkins’ blood pressure was so high, the nurse sent him to the hospital where they diagnosed diabetes and kept him for three days.
JENKINS: I could’ve been dead. I could’ve been dead. Deceased.
Jenkins can thank the Greater Cleveland Health Education and Service Council. They sponsor health screenings twice a year in 10 black-owned barbershops in Cleveland. Sandra Farmer is the executive director. She says they wanted to get health information out to a tough to reach population: black men without health insurance.
SANDRA FARMER: Men communicate with one another in the barber shops, they talk about everything from sports to women to health and so we thought that would be a good place to find them.
And research shows the barbershop model works for women too. Dr. Dawn Kleindorfer of the University of Cincinnati followed customers at beauty salons in Cincinnati and Atlanta who had learned about stroke from their stylists. She found that clients could list the warning signs even five months after their appointments.
DR. DAWN KLEINDORFER: It wasn’t just a transient thing they were spitting back to us, they remembered it for the long term.
Barbers trained up by the non-profit like Clevelander Wendell Lovelace says these campaigns work because of the unique relationship between clients and their stylists.
WENDELL LOVELACE: They do value our opinion, you know. I guess we are the poor man’s psychiatrist.
Lovelace doesn’t get a penny for it, but he’s happy to talk up heart health as he trims hair. He says whether customers make the fitness and diet changes is up to them, but his barber’s seat is always open if any client wants to talk about it.
In Cleveland, I’m Mhari Saito for Marketplace.
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