In the greater St. Cloud region of Minnesota, health care providers are looking beyond the clinic walls for ways to amplify their impact.

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 was been supported by Stearns County Public Health through a grant from Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program.

Kids play outside in an open field.
Kids play outside during PE classes at Pleasantview Elementary in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Students running on a field.
Students take off running during the BLEND Earth Day Health & Fitness Expo.

The data—not just on kids’ weight, but also on their environments and their everyday behavior—suggest that this community initiative is helping to create 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, were put into place to connect kids’ homes with their schools. As a result, more kids began 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—was implemented 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 suggested that consumers may have used 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.
Children playing on a field, getting ready to run.
Children participate in a physical activity during the BLEND Earth Day Health & Fitness Expo.
Children on bicycles on an obstacle course.
At Talahi Community Schools, the Safe Streets Program encourages students to walk or bike to school.

BLEND has initiated other projects to improve community health, including working with local school districts to update wellness policies and working to secure $6 million for new Safe Routes to School projects across Minnesota.

Students cheers water bottles.
Students stay hydrated at BLEND Earth Day Health & Fitness Expo, a program to promote health and wellness in Minnesota.
Grocery store stand with healthy foods.
Coborn’s Grocery Store in St. Cloud, Minnesota is finding ways to make healthy choices easier for its customers.
A father and son cheer at an event.
A father and son cheer at BLEND Earth Day Health and Fitness Expo.
A mother and daughter go shopping in the grocery store.
A mother and daughter make healthy choices at Corbon’s Grocery Store, in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Corbon’s uses the NuVal program, a scoring system to help customers see the nutritional value of the food before they buy.

Originally posted on June 23, 2016.

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