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Findings suggest The Heart of New Ulm Project has helped lower heart disease risk

NEW ULM — Since Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project (HONU) started back in 2009, people who live and work in New Ulm have made a variety of changes to live a healthier lifestyle and reduce their risk for heart disease. For the past eight years, researchers at The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation (MHIF) and Allina Health have been tracking health improvements in the community, and in March, researchers presented yet another study showing positive results, particularly with blood pressure and cholesterol control.

At the American Heart Association’s EPI/Lifestyle 2017 Scientific Sessions held in early March in Portland, Ore., the results of a study were presented that compared several heart disease risk factors for New Ulm residents over a six-year period with those for residents from another Minnesota community. The results showed that New Ulm residents are doing better in controlling their blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglycerides than those in the other community.

“We’re very pleased with the results of this study, as it helps support the importance of the work that we have been doing in New Ulm over the years,” said Rebecca Lindberg, MPH, MHIF’s director of population health and director for HONU. “While we can’t say conclusively that New Ulm’s better health improvements are a direct result of HONU’s activities, the comparison community did not have any sort of project similar to HONU during the study’s timeframe.”

The study looked at heart disease risk factors, heart attack/stroke events and health care utilization among more than 4,000 adults age 40-79 in the New Ulm community from 2009 to 2015 to determine whether they differed when compared to a matching group of adults in a comparison Minnesota community. Since the vast majority of New Ulm residents get their care from New Ulm Medical Center, the study was able to monitor these measures through electronic health record data collected during four different timeframes.

Specifically, the study results showed that while the proportion of people with their blood pressure under control increased by 6.2 percentage points in New Ulm, the comparison community only showed an increase of 2 percentage points. Researchers concluded that because the number of people taking blood pressure medication in both communities was similar, the considerably larger blood pressure improvement in New Ulm may be a result of HONU programs and activities that helped people make lifestyle changes.

The proportion of people with their cholesterol at goal (under 200 mg/dL) decreased by one percentage point in New Ulm over the six years, but declined 8 percentage points in the comparison community. Lindberg explained that even though the number of people with their cholesterol at goal actually declined, it’s still a positive result of the study, because researchers would typically expect it to decline more dramatically as people in the community get older.

Toby Freier, president of New Ulm Medical Center, said, “Health care leaders across the country often ask me about the financial investment we have made in HONU, and whether we have the outcome data to prove its worth. We do have the data showing positive outcomes. This study provides strong evidence in support of a comprehensive package of interventions, such as we’ve done through HONU, for lowering heart disease risk, particularly for blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides.”

Both Lindberg and Freier said that they are also pleased with the results since one of The Heart of New Ulm Project’s goals has been to create a model for improving health that can be replicated in other communities, especially rural communities.

The poster with a complete summary of the findings, titled “Assessing the Impact of The Heart of New Ulm Project: A Population-Based Program to Reduce Cardiovascular Disease,” is available at http://tinyurl.com/j95chd4.

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