Skip to main content

New Ulm Medical Center

Partnership for Innovations in Children’s Health project aimed at improving children’s health, wellbeing in New Ulm

Although childhood obesity is discussed over and over in the media in recent years, it is only one of the many challenges children face in living well. In addition, children of New Ulm face challenges of alcohol and drug use, as well as depression. Here are the troubling statistics:

enter an image description here

Zane Thimmesch-Gill

  • Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled. (Centers for Disease Control)
  • In the last year 30 percent of high school students reported that they have driven a motor vehicle after using alcohol or drugs. (Minnesota Student Survey)
  • 43 percent of 9th graders have used alcohol one or more times in the last year. (Minnesota Student Survey)
  • In the last year, 18 percent of 9th graders have used marijuana. (Minnesota Student Survey)
  • In the last month 17 percent of 9th graders stated that they have felt sad all or most of the time. (Minnesota Student Survey)

A new project called Partnership for Innovations in Children’s Health is a public health initiative aimed at improving children’s health and wellbeing in the community of New Ulm. The project is a collaborative effort between Allina Health, New Ulm Medical Center, Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, the University of Minnesota’s College of Design and the community of New Ulm.

The project will focus on boys and girls ages 11-14 that attend New Ulm schools and will take a unique approach by focusing on how designing environmental changes into children’s daily lives will enable them to make healthy decisions. This research is slightly different in that it uses a systems approach and partners with children as co-researchers. In doing so, the project seeks to understand what about our environment promotes unhealthy activities or prevents healthy ones and then designing solutions that address them.

The project will take place in three phases, roughly totaling three years, explained Jess Roberts, senior design strategist with Allina Health’s Division of Applied Research.

The project has received funding for the first year from the New Ulm Medical Center Foundation and Allina Health, with plans to write grants and secure additional research and grant dollars for years two and three.

“The first phase, which will take up most of 2014 is the formative phase,” Roberts said. This includes getting a sense of barriers and opportunities that middle school-aged children have to living healthier lifestyles. “We will engage parents, children and other community leaders in this phase.”

The project team includes Roberts, Allina Health Division of Applied Research Design Consultant Zane Thimmesch-Gill (who will do much of the interacting with the public during the project), intern Mauricio Ochoa and Principle Investigator Pamela Mink, MPH, PhD.

During the first phase the team will be engaging in several different types of tactics such as shadowing kids, focus groups (kids and adults), and a photo-taking project for children. Any aspects of the project that directly include children will seek parental approval prior to their involvement.

“A steering committee of community leaders and people who work with youth has been formed,” said New Ulm Medical Center Community Engagement Lead Carisa Buegler.

The team will be interviewing youth leaders to see where they should start, Thimmesch-Gill said. That includes youth leaders from a wide cross-section of the community – not only at the schools but other areas such as Boy Scouts, Park & Rec, foster care and the parole system.

It is important to note, Roberts said, that the project will not seek to replicate or replace any current health initiatives or programs. “We know that there is a lot to be learned by what is currently happening and that we might be able to mutually benefit from sharing what we are learning in our work,” he said.

The second phase will focus on design and prototype: finding solutions to the challenges.

“We’ll try in small, safe ways to test out possible environmental changes during this phase,” Roberts said. “If something isn’t working we go back to the drawing board and try something else.”

Phase three is a formal research phase where the team will evaluate how well the co-created solutions work in improving the health of New Ulm’s children.

Vital to all three phases will be community input, Roberts said. Input from community members and leaders will maintain a level of engagement and ownership that will make sustainable change more likely when the formal project is concluded.

For more information about this project and how to participate, call Carisa Buegler at 507-217-5188.