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University, Target partner for aspirin use

The partners’ heart health promotion will start this spring.

More than 50 Target stores across the state are partnering with the University of Minnesota this spring to promote daily aspirin use with the aim of helping Minnesotans take hold of their heart health.

The five-year University-led campaign, called Ask About Aspirin, will target middle-aged Minnesotans because they tend to be at risk of having a heart attack or stroke.  The partnership will advertise the drug to patients in several forms, including billboards, radio ads and pamphlets in doctors’ offices.

The campaign, set to begin in May, is funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Past studies have shown that the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke is reduced when middle-aged people at risk take the drug, findings that inspired the campaign, said Alan Hirsch, lead on the study and adjunct professor of epidemiology and community health in the School of Public Health.

“By having the right people take aspirin and trying to prevent the wrong people from taking aspirin, we think we can safely … help the health of the entire state,” Hirsch said.

The University conducted an experimental version of the campaign in Hibbing, Minn., about a year  ago. That study showed a 16 percent increase in daily aspirin use among the middle-aged people who comprised the test group.

Researchers will test the success of the trial by using the ads in some areas of the state while isolating other areas, including surrounding states like Wisconsin and Iowa.

To get an idea of how many residents use aspirin, researchers will make phone calls to both isolated and testing areas before the campaign starts. They’ll call the same areas five years later when the campaign ends to see if aspirin use has increased.

Mayo professor of public health, Dr. Russell Luepker, said the state has made progress on issues like high blood pressure and smoking. Monitoring heart health is the next step in making Minnesota healthier, he said.

“When you have a common disease like this, a more public campaign is one useful approach,” Luepker said.

The University, along with other partners like the Minnesota Department of Health, hopes for statewide success similar to the kind the project had in Hibbing.

Unlike the pilot campaign, the statewide study will also look at aspirin use in minority groups that tend to have higher rates of heart problems and use preventative aspirin less than Caucasian people, said School of Public Health Dean John Finnegan.

Though the campaign hasn’t started yet, the Centers for Disease Control has already expressed interest in its design, Luepker said. If it’s successful, the CDC is likely to spread the campaign across the nation.

“This is going to be something with national implications,” Finnegan said.

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