Health beat: Signs of success for the Heart of New Ulm project

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 15, 2014 - 5:59 PM

Denise Leitz says Adrian Peterson almost ended her journey to better health.

When AP dropped a key pass in a Vikings game last fall, Leitz biked from her house in a huff and fell and broke her hand.

Her plan to bike her way to a healthy weight crashed with her. But if the 56-year-old convenience store clerk learned one thing from the Heart of New Ulm — a community project to reduce heart attacks and cardiac deaths in Leitz’ hometown — it is that setbacks aren’t reasons to give up.

“Just keep on going,” she said.

A health coach encouraged her to take up walking while she healed. And after sticking with better diet and exercise for a year, Leitz lost 58 pounds and plays kickball with her grandkids.

“I don’t sit on the sidelines anymore,” she said.

Leitz is one sign of success for the Heart of New Ulm, and data halfway through the 10-year project is another. The rate of deaths from coronary heart disease in New Ulm declined 30 percent from 2006-2008 to 2009-2011 while the state rate only declined 10 percent.

Residents are visiting free health coaches and adopting healthier habits, businesses are changing their environments and creating fitness incentives, and restaurants and grocery stores are changing menus and displays to make healthier choices easier.

Progress has also come by understanding New Ulm, such as its pride in its butter factory and brewery, said Rebecca Lindberg, director of population health for the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, which is a partner in the project along with Allina Health’s New Ulm Medical Center.

“There was no taking the butter off the tables,” she said.

Leitz credits her health coach along with text messages that provide timely pick-me-ups. She worried about eating her daughter’s cheesecake one day when a text coincidentally said a treat once a week was OK.

Leitz neglected her own health while raising her three kids, and later sought the wrong foods for comfort after divorce.

“I felt like, ‘well, I should at least be able to have two pieces of pie and a chocolate bar,’” she said. “Why do we do that?”

With help, the food she craves has become the food she needs, Leitz said. “Now that’s what my body wants.”

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