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Most Docs Don’t Know Hair Care Is a Barrier to Exercise for Black Women

Last Updated: November 14, 2019.

THURSDAY, Nov. 14, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- The extra care that black women's hairstyles can require is often a barrier to exercise, but many U.S. health care providers aren't even aware of the problem, a new study finds.

Researchers surveyed doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants in the department of family medicine at Ohio State University, and found that 95% of them sometimes/often discuss exercise with black female patients.

However, 76% of them have never included hair care in an exercise discussion and only 34% said they were comfortable discussing hair care in that context, the findings showed.

"As physicians, if we don't have those specific conversations, we're not doing everything that we can to decrease this barrier and help African-American women overcome what they feel is holding them back from exercise," said study leader Dr. Sophia Tolliver. She is a family medicine physician at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, in Columbus.

The study was published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

The study findings show the need to include this topic in medical education curriculums to potentially have a lasting impact on the long-term health of black women.

About 56% of black women aged 20 and older are obese, putting them at increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Regular exercise can help reduce these health risks.

"It's going to come down to increasing education about African-American hair, African-American females' cultural practices when it comes to hair, and how you can counsel a patient in an office visit about decreasing that barrier," Tolliver said in a university news release.

She offered the following advice for black women who want to be physically active:

  • If you're new to exercise, consider starting with low-impact exercise, such as walking, to minimize perspiration.
  • Try a protective hairstyle, such as braids, twists, buns or extensions.
  • Schedule more strenuous workouts on a day you plan to wash your hair.

More information

The U.S. Office on Women's Health has more about physical activity.

SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, Nov. 8, 2019

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