Cardiovascular disease, including stroke, is the leading cause of death for African American men and women, claiming the lives of 100,000 people annually.
But the American Heart Association and the Washington State Department of Health want to reduce that statistic. They are partnering with local barbershops and beauty salons across Puget Sound to help educate African Americans about the causes of cardiovascular disease.
Beauticians and barbers will be trained to check their clients' blood pressure, at no cost to their clients, and their shops will be equipped with the necessary machines.
A launch event and training session will be held for Pierce County businesses at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 29 at A&M Beauty Supply & Salon, 6209 Mt. Tacoma Drive S.W. in Lakewood.
King County businesses will be trained at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 5 at Safeco's Jackson Street Center, 306 23rd Ave. S.
The American Heart Association and the Washington State Department of Health will supply educational materials from the Power to End Stroke and Go Red For Women programs. Nurses and volunteers from the community will be available to support the needs of salons and barber shops.
"Barber and beauty shops have long been a strong, stable community gathering place, particularly within the African American communities," said Willie Austin, chair of the American Heart Association's Cultural Health Initiatives Committee and founder of the Austin Foundation.
"The trust and camaraderie that people often have with their hair stylist, combined with regularly scheduled visits, makes this a perfect venue for disseminating important health messages," Austin added.
Barbershop owner Willie Hodge feels it's important to keep the community aware of various health issues and has several workshops in his store on AIDS/HIV prevention and education.
"Having a few health issues myself, including type II diabetes, I'm trying to be more conscious about how I take care of myself, and I know my clients are as well," said Hodge, owner of Hodges Hair Quarters. "Any time I can educate someone while they're sitting in my chair or check their blood pressure when they may not go to the doctor on a regular basis is important."
Among African American adults aged 20 and older, 45 percent of men and 49 percent of women have cardiovascular disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the National Center for Health Statistics. Overall, 870,000 Americans die each year due to cardiovascular disease, more than any other disease.
African Americans are one of the least active groups in terms of overall physical activity: 27 percent of men and 34 percent of women report no leisure-time physical activity; 77 percent of African American women ages 20 and older are overweight or obese; and 76 percent of African American men are overweight or obese.
"I don't think we're well-informed enough as a community, so with this new program, we're trying to educate the public. We need to exercise more; some of us just don't take care of ourselves like we should," Hodges added.
African Americans also have almost twice the risk of first-ever stroke, compared to Caucasians. The prevalence of hypertension in African Americans in the United States is among the highest in the world, and it is increasing.
Compared to Caucasians, African Americans develop high blood pressure at an earlier age and their average blood pressure is much higher. As a result, African Americans have 1.5 times a greater rate of heart disease deaths and 1.8 times more fatal strokes.
"We are very excited to start this unique and life-saving program," Austin added. "In moving forward, we hope that more and more salons and barber shops will choose to participate and, in effect, become valuable resource centers in the community."
To date, these are the participating salons in King and Pierce counties:
• A&M Beauty Supply & Salon, 6209 Mt. Tacoma Drive S.W., Lakewood.
• A New You Beauty Salon, 324 25th Ave. S., Seattle
• Hair Studio 57, 9259 57th Ave. S., Seattle
• Hodges Hair Quarters, 4403 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle
• Lakewood International Hairport, 10518 91st Ave. Court S.W., Lakewood
• Sam & Terry Barbershop, 1705 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma
• Wilson Barbershop, 324 25th Ave. S.
Salons and barbershops that wish to participate in the program should call Elizabeth Thomas, RN, ARNP, at 206-910-6053 or Ethlyn Gibson, RN, MSN, at 253-403-1401. For info. call 800-562-6718.