Literature review finds barber shops, beauty salons to be effective venues for promoting health education

July 7, 2014

Barbershops and beauty salons have long been seen as excellent venues for handing out health information and increasing community awareness. But how effective are these settings at getting the word out and improving health outcomes?

Much of Linnan’s own research involves dissemination of health information through salons and barber shops. Here, Donna Hooker, proprietor of Donna’s Hair Salon, in Sanford, N.C., talks with a customer about how to prevent falls. Linnan and colleagues have worked closely with Ms. Hooker and other barber shop and salon owners to share health information with people who otherwise might not have access to it.

Much of Linnan’s own research involves dissemination of health information through salons and barber shops. Here, Donna Hooker, proprietor of Donna’s Hair Salon, in Sanford, N.C., talks with a customer about how to prevent falls. Linnan and colleagues have worked closely with Ms. Hooker and other barber shop and salon owners to share health information with people who otherwise might not have access to it.

Laura A. Linnan ScD, professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Health Behavior and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and her colleagues conducted the first synthesis review of the literature on outcomes associated with barbershop and beauty salon-based activities.

The results, published in the July print issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, provide important insights about how to best use these settings as places to share health information.

The study also provides valuable information about future programs, activities and research that can be done by collaborating with shop owners, barbers and cosmetologists and their customers to address health concerns in these community settings.

Using PubMed and other secondary search engines, Linnan and her team uncovered 54 studies published in the past 14 years that described efforts to recruit people to join a program or research study, promote various health topics or learn how to work within beauty salons and barbershops to conduct public health activities.

The team found a growing literature describing how researchers and practitioners recruit, develop, intervene and evaluate health programs in beauty salons and barbershops. Some of the studies were labeled “formative” — i.e., they helped establish the foundation for how to work within these settings. More than half of the papers described ways to recruit individuals into studies that occur in the salons and barbershops or that take place outside of these settings.

The studies showed high levels of success, particularly in recruiting minorities.

The remaining papers described “intervention studies,”  nearly 75 percent of which yielded statistically significant results on the primary health outcome studied. These studies targeted mostly racial/ethnic minority groups and focused on a variety of health topics, such as cancer, hypertension and diabetes, and explored the extent to which intervention studies achieved intended health outcomes.

Linnan labeled these results promising, but specified a need for more rigorous research designs.

The review suggests that intervention and recruitment efforts could benefit from more collaboration between researchers, shop owners and their customers. Barbershops and beauty salons are excellent settings for reaching populations who suffer disproportionately from a wide range of health disparities. While evidence of intervention effectiveness is growing, Linnan emphasized the need for more research to better understand which topics and types of interventions are best-suited for salons and shops, given the timing, complexity, and resources and access required to achieve desired health outcomes.

Joining Linnan in the study were Heather D’Angelo, doctoral candidate in health behavior at the Gillings School, and Cherise B. Harrington, PhD, former UNC Lineberger health disparities postdoctoral fellow and now assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Community Services at George Washington University.


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Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu.