This well-written CNN story describes a multi-year study that looked at whether providing blood pressure screening and access to pharmacists in black-owned barber shops might be effective in reducing high blood pressure among the African-American men who patronize these establishments. The study was presented as part of the 67th annual scientific session of the American Association of Cardiologists.
The story is strong and scores well because it discusses critical data from the study, offers comments from independent sources and provides information on limitations. It didn’t delve into either costs or harms, but in this case, there seems to be minimal need for either, due to the nature of the research. One minor point we think the story could have made: It remains to be seen if this style of intervention ultimately leads to a reduced risk of stroke, serious heart disease, and/or heart attacks, especially if there is not a long-term barbershop program in place.
This was a unique choice for a study presented at the ACC conference. Often, the studies presented at the conference are industry-funded and focus on specific (and often very expensive) drugs or devices. We were heartened to see the news media give this study broad coverage, and found this story especially refreshing to read.
There was no mention of costs in this story although the costs of some antihypertensive drugs can be moderately high. Neither did the story disclose that study participants received vouchers for monthly haircuts as well as a small monetary payment to offset the costs of drugs and transportation as enticements to continue with the program, information that was contained in the journal paper but excluded in the story. Regardless, we don’t believe that information is that important to readers in this case so we’ll rate this category as non-applicable.
The story clearly states that men in the intervention group experienced a much greater reduction in their blood pressure readings as compared to the control group. It included this quantified statement, “It turned out that, when the guidance was coupled with medication, a blood pressure level of less than 130/80 was achieved among 63.6% of men who participated in the study’s program, versus 11.7% of those who didn’t.”
This was a tough one to rate. On one hand, It is hard to envision harms arising from men participating in what appeared to be a safe screening and treatment program for high blood pressure. On the other, the journal paper about this study reported that three individuals experienced acute kidney injury, although that problem disappeared once medications were altered. So, there are risks, and the story would have been stronger had it included them.
This was a strong point of the story. It explains that the research compared the results of an interventional group with those of a control group of matched participants and barber shops. It also points out several limitations to the study which readers can consider when evaluating the worth of this research.
No disease mongering here.
The story includes comments from both a barber-participant in the study and a researcher unconnected to this project. We did not detect any conflicts of interest that should have been disclosed.
The story explained the alternative–not receiving special help at the barbershop–and what the outcomes were. It also discussed similar past efforts to help black men at risk of colon cancer. Perhaps more could have been said about the effectiveness rates of other public health programs, but we feel this wasn’t critical.
The story makes clear that this research was conducted in the Los Angeles area and cautions that a national study would be needed to show the approach’s applicability in other locales. Readers would not assume that this kind of health care assistance was available in black-owned barber shops elsewhere.
The story does a good job discussing this study in the context of previous research, which has involved the use of barber shops and beauty salons as places where patrons might be receptive to health messages.
This does not appear to rely on a news release.