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Heart of New Ulm Project: A Community's Quest to Eliminate Heart Attacks

By Rachael Moeller Gorman, "The Town That Lost 7,961 Pounds," January/February 2013

How the town of New Ulm joined together to lose weight, lower cholesterol levels and eat healthier.

In 2008, Jackie Boucher, a fit blonde who swims every morning in the summer and runs or walks 5 to 7 miles daily in the bitter Minnesota winters, was given a tall challenge: Could she come up with a plan to eliminate heart attacks in a community? That question was on the minds of her boss, Kevin Graham, M.D., then-­president of the Minneapolis Heart Institute, and Dick Pettingill, then-CEO of Allina Health.

Heart disease causes one in three deaths in the U.S. If you smoke, are overweight, are inactive or have high blood pressure or cholesterol, you add to your risks. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and people who are 25 to 50 pounds overweight are 50 percent more likely to have a heart attack.

Theoretically, then, if people changed their behaviors, they could reduce their risk of heart attacks. If they did, it would not only save lives but could also save millions in health-care costs.

The two men asked Boucher, a registered dietitian and educator, to write up a plan and focus on one particularly tough town: New Ulm, Minnesota, home to a brewery, a butter packager and what was, at the time, the world’s largest Velveeta plant.

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