Valvular Heart Disease Screening Study in New Ulm, Minn. Area


The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation (MHIF), in partnership with The Heart of New Ulm Project (HONU) and New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC), part of Allina Health, will be conducting free valvular heart disease (VHD) screenings for eligible adults age 65 and older. The screenings are a part of a new MHIF research project funded by the Abbott Northwestern Hospital Foundation.

Mario Goessl, MD, PhD, director of transcatheter research and education and co-chair for the MHI/MHIF Valve Science Center, said, "We don't really understand the prevalence of undiagnosed VHD. There has only been one recent study, which was done in Europe. This will be the first prospective population VHD screening study done in the United States." New Ulm was chosen for this study, said Gretchen Benson, RD, CDE, population health program manager for MHIF, because of the enthusiastic response the community showed to the HONU Project. "This community really shows up," she said.

All participants will be asked to complete a brief demographic and lifestyle questionnaire, have their height, weight and blood pressure measured, and then be examined using a handheld portable echocardiography device. They will also receive an educational booklet with information about VHD and actions they can take should they be diagnosed with mild, moderate or severe VHD. The goal is to screen at least 2,500 people.

"The goal for this screening study is to bring public awareness to VHD, detect it earlier, and help more older adults in our community get the treatment they need to live longer, healthier and happier lives,” said Goessl.


Study shows community-based interventions help residents make nutrition and physical activity improvements

Findings published in Preventive Medicine Reports are first to integrate patient-reported and electronic health record-based data.

In the March 2019 issue of Preventive Medicine Reports, The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® (MHIF) Population Health Team has published results from the first known of its kind study integrating patient-reported & EHR-based data to provide population-level estimates of changes in lifestyle risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The research shows that a community-based health intervention may significantly improve lifestyle risk factors for CVD across an entire community, particularly with regard to increased physical activity and increased daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Researchers from MHIF and Allina Health found that over the first six years of a population health demonstration project in the rural community of New Ulm, Minn., achievement of adequate physical activity increased from 63 percent to 71 percent, and consumption of at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day nearly doubled.

“Lifestyle significantly influences development of CVD, but up until now, limited data has existed to demonstrate lifestyle improvements in community-based interventions,” said Gretchen Benson, MHIF population health manager and the study’s lead author. Read the news release. Access the journal article.

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Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project Recognized with 2018 Heart Healthy Stroke Free Award

The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation's Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project received the 2018 Heart Healthy Stroke Free Award from the National Forum for Heart Disease & Stroke Prevention, announced October 24 at the National Forum's annual meeting in Washington, DC.

The Heart Healthy Stroke Free Award is presented annually to an organization whose work embodies the recommendations made in the national Public Health Action Plan to Prevent Heart Disease and Stroke, a strategic framework to guide health practitioners and policymakers' actions in two of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States.

“The Heart of New Ulm Project exemplifies community collaboration and capacity building. This project goes beyond hospital and clinic walls to where health really happens, the places where people live, learn, work, pray and play. It’s a model for other communities to look to for improving heart disease risk factors — ultimately reducing heart attacks,” said John M. Clymer, Executive Director of the National Forum. “The positive impact that the project has achieved, particularly in the rural setting, and the way in which it is woven throughout the community is exciting and inspiring.” Read full press release here.


Meet the 2018 Population Health Interns!

Danielle and Sarah were selected as the 2018 Population Health Interns. Both interns are graduate students at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Sarah was particularly interested in the internship here at MHIF because of the quality research done within the community. Sarah says, “My favorite part about my experience here at MHIF is the hands-on experience I’m getting. I feel directly involved with the communities we are impacting.” Danielle was drawn to the internship at MHIF in particular because of the groundbreaking health prevention work that is being done through the Heart of New Ulm Project.  Her favorite experience thus far at her internship has been the opportunity to join a Food Environment Action Team meeting in New Ulm. Read their full profile and more about the Population Health Internship program here.

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Study Reveals Evidence that Health Initiatives Implemented at a Population Level Can Help Residents Improve Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

In the study, published in the July issue of Preventive Medicine, MHIF and Allina Health researchers compared several heart disease risk factors for residents of rural New Ulm, Minn., over a six-year period with those for matched residents from another rural 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. 

“HONU has been a unique research project contributing significant evidence to answer the question of how we can best improve cardiovascular health at a population level,” said Rebecca Lindberg, MPH, MHIF’s director of population health and director for HONU. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death and a major contributor to increasing health care costs around the world. Cardiologists and heart disease prevention organizations such as the American Heart Association have long recognized that in order to effectively reduce heart disease, community-based programs addressing the social, behavioral and environmental determinants of heart disease are needed in addition to clinical care. Yet, limited research is available to identify the most effective community-based strategies. Our researchers have been rigorously tracking and evaluating health improvements in New Ulm for nearly 10 years and to date have published 18 articles in peer-reviewed journals showcasing the project’s outcomes in several different areas. We’re pleased with the results of this latest study that continue to build the strong case that investments in population-level health programs can drive positive changes in health outcomes across a community.” View the full press release here.

New Study Shows Additional Support from Telemedicine and RDN Helps Improve Risk Factor Control in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes

A team-based approach to diabetes care that incorporates supplemental support from a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) via telemedicine can help patients with type 2 diabetes better manage their disease than those who don’t receive additional support. That’s according to findings from a recent study by The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® (MHIF) that were presented June 25 at the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions in Orlando, Fla.

“It’s well established that primary care physicians face significant time constraints when caring for patients, and that especially in rural areas, there is a growing shortage of physicians,” said Gretchen Benson, RD, CDE, a study investigator and population health program manager for MHIF. “Our study sought to investigate the impact of a collaborative, team-based approach to diabetes care that expanded prescribing rights for dietitian diabetes educators, since achieving optimal care often requires frequent visits, medication adjustments and ongoing support for making lifestyle changes." Download full press release here.


Nine Year Impact Report From Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm

Health care is moving beyond hospital and clinic walls and out into communities. In New Ulm, Minn., an initiative from the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® (MHIF) has been paving the way.

Since 2009, Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project (HONU) has been helping people in New Ulm, Minn., improve their risk factors for heart disease and reduce the number of heart attacks. As a collaborative partnership of MHIF, Allina Health and the New Ulm community, the 10-year population health research project has offered a unique environment for studying how various interventions, systems and environmental improvements, along with policy changes, can impact the health of an entire community.

Results big and small have converged to transform the community and propel a shift to a culture where health is a shared value for all. The project’s success is a result of fostering an exceptional level of engagement among residents and partners; implementing an integrated, evidence-based approach; and nurturing supportive environments — especially food and built environments. Throughout the project, MHIF has rigorously measured and reported outcomes, and developed leadership approaches that are being replicated. Today, the project continues to capture the attention of health care thought leaders on regional, national and international levels.

Read our Nine Year Impact Report about the project to learn more. 


Population-level Impact of a Community-wide Weight Challenge

Research published by the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® online in Obesity Science and Practice in March 2018 shows that a weight management challenge targeting an entire community may help overweight or obese participants lose weight and healthy weight participants avoid weight gain. The research showed that a low-intensity weight management challenge in a rural Minnesota community was associated with a modest, but statistically significant, average weight loss of 2 percent (about 4 pounds) over one year among adults who were overweight or obese at enrollment.

The community-wide weight challenge was conducted in conjunction with Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project (HONU), which is designed to reduce community members’ risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). HONU is a population health demonstration project of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation in partnership with Allina Health’s New Ulm Medical Center and the community of New Ulm, Minn.

“Since the HONU Project began in 2009, we had observed some rather impressive improvements in CVD risk factors among community members, such as blood pressure and cholesterol control, as well as increased fruit and vegetable consumption. But we really had not seen a noticeable improvement in body weight,” said Rebecca Lindberg, MPH, RD, director of population health from Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, and member of the research team. “Given the single health care system in New Ulm and existing HONU population health surveillance activities using the electronic health record, this study offered an uncommon opportunity to gauge the impact of a weight management challenge across the entire community.” Access the study here

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Improving the Rural Restaurant Food Environment

In the January 2018 issue of Public Health Nutrition, new research published by the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation shows that a community-wide program aimed at improving the rural restaurant food environment may hold promise for increasing the availability, identification and promotion of healthier food and beverage options. 

The research showed that over an 18-month period, across all restaurants in the rural Minnesota community of New Ulm, the availability of non-fried vegetable offerings increased from 63 percent to 84 percent. The availability of fruit offerings increased from 41 percent to 53 percent, and the offerings of smaller portions and whole grains also increased. While all restaurants evaluated in the community made improvements in healthy menu practices, restaurants that participated in a community-wide program with a simple-to-implement intervention were more likely to meet or adopt those healthy practices than those that did not participate in the program.

“In a community where obesity and low fruit and vegetable consumption have been identified as problems, we were very pleased to see an increase in the number of restaurants that offer fruit and vegetables and smaller portions,” said Rebecca Lindberg, MPH, RD, director of population health from Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, and member of the research team. “This represents a significant improvement in the food environment of this rural community.” Access the study here.

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Metabolic Syndrome and Lifestyle Changes

In the June 2017 issue of Preventive Medicine Reports, researchers from the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation®(MHIF) and Allina Health published findings of a study that examined two-year changes in key lifestyle risk metrics and incident metabolic syndrome in adults. The retrospective cohort study used data on metabolic syndrome free adults from Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project, which is a 10-year population health research project being conducted by MHIF in partnership with Allina Health’s New Ulm Medical Center in New Ulm, Minn.

Dr. Thomas Knickelbine, a cardiologist and MHIF research physician, said, “We found that a primary predictor for incident metabolic syndrome over a two-year study timeframe was change in optimal lifestyle score based on four behavioral risk factors, including smoking, alcohol use, fruit/vegetable consumption, and physical activity. As compared to improving poor lifestyle habits, maintaining a healthy lifestyle seemed to be most helpful in avoiding metabolic syndrome over the two-year study timeframe.” Read the full study results here.