The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 10, 2013

New Ulm takes heart in health project stats

NEW ULM — Five years into a leading-edge community initiative to curtail heart attacks in New Ulm, project coordinators say “statistically significant” improvements are being shown in healthy-living habits.

Though that may sound like lukewarm positivity, Heart of New Ulm project leader Jackie Boucher said moving the needle on community health even slightly at this point is encouraging in the overall arc of the 10-year study.

“We know we’re not going to eliminate all heart attacks. Our overarching goal is to reduce heart attacks over 10 years in the community.”

The numbers suggest the project is well on track toward that end.

For example, national data trends for hypertension and pre-hypertension (blood pressure) have been stable for the past decade, while data for adult New Ulm residents shows a 2.7 percent drop in a four-year period.

Also, New Ulm residents 40-79 in that period showed a 2.2 percent drop in uncontrolled cholesterol readings, significantly better than  comparable national averages.

Community buy-in to the project also has manifested itself in more visible ways, such as the group of bank employees who collectively lost 650 pounds.

Boucher also ticked off other statistically significant community health markers:

“We’ve had more people taking a daily aspirin, more getting exercise, people eating more fruits and vegetables, people smoking less.”

She said what the project hasn’t produced yet is a significant change in overall obesity numbers. But she said even that can be viewed as a positive because weights of project participants have held stable rather than increase, which is usually the norm as people age.

The Heart of New Ulm is a $40 million initiative that began in 2008 and is funded by Allina Hospitals and Clinics. It’s a community-driven project encouraging lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation and improved nutrition.

Boucher said the community is engaged at every level, from schools to worksites, to lay health leaders to health care providers.

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