People recruited for new study

NEW ULM — Recruitment opened this month for a new study centered on making communities healthy, starting with families.

The Heart of New Ulm (HONU), the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation (MHIF) are partnering to pursue New Ulm — Healthy Home Offerings via the Mealtime Environment (NU-HOME).

“It is a study to promote healthy eating and healthy home food environments by having more family meals and having families work together to be more physically active, learn cooking skills and eat healthy together,” principal investigator Jayne Fulkerson said.

Roughly half of the 120 spots in the study were filled as of Monday, June 5, Fulkerson said. Recruitment runs through the summer with the study beginning in October.

It is a randomized controlled study, so while entry is first come first serve. Applicants will be randomly assigned to the control group or variable group. The control group will receive the healthy curriculum after the study is complete.

The study runs for 18 months with a meeting each month. Families must have at least one child between the ages of 7 and 10 and live within 50 miles of New Ulm.

“We are really hoping that we can engage families in a way that they find is helpful for them and they feel like they can make healthy choices both in eating and activity,” Fulkerson said.

The study is based on an earlier program, called HOME Plus, based in an urban setting. NU-HOME takes some of the lessons from that project combined with a rural area to test the previous study’s methods in a new way.

In HOME Plus, Fulkerson learned a few major things. First, the study had a significant impact on reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks among children.

It showed prepubescent children in the program exhibited less excess weight gain. It is why NU-HOME focuses on 7 to 10-year-olds instead of 8 to 12-year-olds like the original study. Younger children are less likely to have hit puberty.

Finally, the study revealed that many parents who participated thought they had a better grasp on portion sizes than they actually did.

“A lot of them said at the beginning of the program that they thought they understood portion sizes and serving sizes but when we finished the program and asked them what they learned the most they said they were kind of surprised about how little they knew about portion sizes and serving sizes and what is appropriate for their kids,” Fulkerson said.

NU-HOME’s inclusion of physical activity is a change from the previous study as well, Fulkerson said. HOME Plus focused only on healthy mealtimes and reducing media use during them.

Along with previous lessons, the study will account for different variables that occur in a rural area. One example Fulkerson used was distance from food sources.

“If you have to drive further you are probably doing it (shopping) less frequently and so you are less likely to have fresh fruits and vegetables available in your home,” Fulkerson said.

Once the study is over, Fulkerson said she may expand the program to surrounding towns. If she does, she likely will not include a research aspect.

Fulkerson said she would also like to make the resources from the study easily available, so other people could attempt to set up their own program.

“Healthy communities are important but a lot of it begins in the home and that is really our goal,” Fulkerson said. “To make the whole community healthier by starting in the home.”

To apply for joining the study call (507) 441-8011 to go through the screening process determining eligibility.

Connor Cummiskey can be emailed at