Maybe you won't listen to your doctor. But can your village help you lower your blood pressure or live a healthier life?

That's the premise of a two-day conference, which starts on Friday in Bloomington, showcasing how Minnesota communities have taken it upon themselves to promote healthy living.

And the star of the show is the Heart of New Ulm project, which has been touted nationally as a model of success.

Four years ago, officials set out to cut the risk of heart attack in the town of 13,000 in southern Minnesota as part of an experiment by Allina Health, which owns the local hospital.

Among other things, health experts teamed up with schools, churches and businesses and unleashed a massive campaign to encourage people to get fit, eat right and lose weight. They also offered free health screenings, wellness programs and telephone coaching.

The results seem encouraging: In a study of 1,700 participants, the number with high blood pressure dropped from 24 percent to 19 percent between 2009 and 2011. There were similar drops in high cholesterol and blood sugar rates.

This week's conference, which is cosponsored by the University of St. Thomas, will highlight dozens of such projects throughout Minnesota. "Everybody's kind of getting in the act," said former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, who teaches health policy at St. Thomas. He said these grass-roots efforts could make a difference, not only in people's health but in holding down health costs. "I've seen the [data] on New Ulm, and it's all moving in the right direction," he said.

The idea for the conference grew out of Durenberger's class, when two of his students decided to organize it and invite the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Regina Benjamin. Benjamin accepted and is scheduled to give the closing remarks.

The conference is free and open to the public. To register, send an e-mail to

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384