Childhood obesity is on the decline in the greater St. Cloud region of Minnesota, and this community’s story suggests that health care providers can amplify their impact when they look beyond the clinic walls.
CentraCare Health is a nonprofit health care system that, along with a coalition of government and community partners, set out to help children in the region achieve a healthy weight by making healthy choices easier to make. CentraCare leads a collaborative initiative called Better Living: Exercise and Nutrition Daily (BLEND), which launched in 2006 to make healthy food and physical activity a regular part of children’s daily lives. The effort has been supported by Stearns County Public Health through a grant from Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program.
The data—not just on kids’ weight, but also on their environments and their everyday behavior—suggest that this community initiative is creating a Culture of Health in central Minnesota. Some examples include:
- Safe Routes to School: New infrastructure, like sidewalks, bike lanes, safe-speed signage and crossing guard stations, has been put into place to connect kids’ homes with their schools. As a result, more kids are walking or biking to school than ever before. At one middle school, the number of students walking and biking to school increased by 40 percent in one year, while an elementary school recorded a 23 percent rise in the same period.
- Nutrition Labeling in Stores and Schools: A nutritional scoring system called “NuVal”—which scores food from 1 to 100, where a higher number means the food is more nutritious—is being used in both grocery stores (the Coborn’s Grocery chain, Lunds & Byerly’s and some locations of Cash Wise) and in one area school district. Sales receipts suggest that consumers may use the scores to “trade up” for more nutritious options; for example, sales of yogurts with low NuVal scores dropped by 19 percent in the first year of NuVal’s implementation in the Greater St. Cloud Region, while yogurt sales with high NuVal scores increased by 4 percent.
- Complete Streets: In 2011, St. Cloud implemented a resolution requiring that all streets built or rebuilt in St. Cloud must consider pedestrian-friendly features like sidewalks and bike lines, to improve safety and convenience for users of all ages and abilities.
BLEND is continuing to take on new challenges to improve community health. Recent projects include working with local school districts to update wellness policies and working to secure $6 million for new Safe Routes to School projects across Minnesota.