By Jonathan Allen
(Reuters) - Turning his head from side to side as he checks his reflection in the barbershop mirror, Terrell Mack seems pretty pleased with his haircut -- a tight, neat crop -- but he can't get up from the chair just yet.
The hair-dusted cape is swept away with the usual toreador flourish.
Mack's sleeve is pushed up and the cuff of an electronic blood pressure machine is tightened around his right arm. It rapidly inflates, as do the numbers on the machine's digital read-out screen.
"One-twenty-six over 80," Dennis Mitchell, Mack's barber, announces, although his 19-year-old client is briefly uncertain what to make of the reading.
"That's pretty good," Mitchell explains. Smiles all around.
The news makes perfect sense to Mack: "I don't really eat fast food," he says, to Mitchell's approval.
The machines arrived at the Denny Moe's Superstar Barbershop in New York's historic African-American neighborhood of Harlem in May, making it only one of the latest examples of barbers and beauty salons in predominantly black or immigrant neighborhoods doubling up as dispensaries of informal health advice alongside more usual perms and trims.
Across the country, healthcare workers are trying to harness the unique status of the barber and the unusually intimate rapport he can develop with his regular clients. A man may be barely on nodding terms with the guy who runs his laundromat, and yet confess every hope, fear and peccadillo once he's seated in the barber's chair.
"If someone is six inches from your ear and they have seen you at your worst and your best, then who better to give a health message?" Ruth Browne, the chief executive officer of the Brooklyn-based Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, said in an interview.
Although not involved in the Denny Moe's program, the Arthur Ashe Institute is one of several organizations that believe barbershops and beauty salons may be one of the best ways to reach communities where economic, cultural and linguistic barriers impede access to primary health care.
Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/29/us-harlem-barbershops-idUSTRE75S66W20110629