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Published on February 26, 2016

BLEND Reduces Risk of Childhood Obesity in Central Minnesota


Clinic Data Shows Healthier Options in Schools, Community Are Supporting Better Health

According to a recent study by CentraCare Health and St. Cloud State University, children are less likely to be obese if living in a community served by BLEND (Better Living: Exercise and Nutrition Daily), a community initiative led by the CentraCare Health Foundation to reduce childhood obesity.

The study compared clinical data of CentraCare patients ages 5 and 12 from communities with and without the BLEND initiative between January 1, 2008 and September 14, 2015, encompassing more than 23,000 patient encounters.

Findings include:

  • After accounting for race and ethnicity, children in communities with BLEND have, on average, a lower propensity to become obese. This finding is important as CentraCare strives to reduce health disparities amongst different populations.
  • On average, communities with BLEND have lower obesity rates among both age groups as compared to other communities, and this difference ranges between 2 percentage points to 4 percentage points (between 20% and 28% change in rate), after accounting for individual demographic and socio-economic characteristics. The group with the largest difference is 12-year-old boys, followed by 12-year-old girls.
  • Overall, when looking across years, children living in communities with BLEND have a lower risk of becoming obese than communities not affiliated with BLEND. The BLEND effect varies across age groups and years. Older groups show larger differences (between 4 percentage points and 8 percentage points), while younger groups show more variations and lower differences. However, all differences are statistically significant.

This study builds upon data released in 2014, which showed 29 percent of 12-year-old boys in the Greater St. Cloud region were overweight or obese compared to 40 percent in 2008. This downward trend ran counter to other Central Minnesota communities served by CentraCare, where overweight and obesity rates of 12-year-old boys increased from 34 percent in 2008 to 38 percent in 2014. Health leaders credited the drop in rates of children with unhealthy weights to BLEND and their partners who work to create sustainable improvements in health policies, systems that promote increased physical activity and healthy eating, and environments that allows children and families to be more active.

“Today’s 12-year-olds entered school in 2007 and 2008, just as BLEND was beginning its work in St. Cloud elementary schools. This is the first cohort to experience healthy options, activities and environments for their entire school career, so to see that obesity rates are not increasing as the children age and are actually on the decline is especially encouraging,” said David Tilstra, MD, CentraCare Clinic President and BLEND steering committee member.

Nationwide, one third of adolescents are overweight or obese. Obesity among children age 2 to 5 is on the decline, but rates have held constant for youth age 6 to 19 between 2003 and 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Locally, the results of this most recent BLEND study point toward a sustainable reversal in the region’s previously-climbing childhood obesity rates.

Since its inception, BLEND aimed to drop childhood obesity rates by 10 percent by 2016, a goal that was reached two years early. Funded by the CentraCare Health Foundation, BLEND promotes community wellness through initiatives like the NuVal® Nutritional Scoring System, Walk-A-Thons, Safe Routes to School and Fit Kids Club Series.

“The data is clear. Good policies and supportive community initiatives are turning the tide on obesity,” said Jodi Gertken, director of Wellness at CentraCare Health. “For this reason, CentraCare Health will continue to engage our community in efforts to improve health, building on the successes and lessons from BLEND and Crave the Change, a companion effort that promotes public health policies that reduce tobacco use and eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.”

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