ST. CLOUD -- Childhood obesity numbers have risen nationally, but a local initiative is working to keep that from happening in central Minnesota.

The Associated Press reported this week that a recent study by the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity found 41 million kids under the age of 5 are overweight or obese worldwide -- up from 31 million in 1990.

But a report by CentraCare Health and St. Cloud State University has shown that obesity in children 12 and under in St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, Sartell, St. Joseph and Rice has decreased since 2008.

To continue combating childhood obesity, CentraCare's Better Living: Exercise and Nutrition Daily (BLEND) Coordinator John Inkster says they work with area schools to change policies, systems and environments (PSE).

"Those broad changes [in PSE] are more sustainable," Inkster says. "For example, we've worked with schools to implement healthy fundraising programs -- so, instead of having kids selling frozen cookie dough or pizza, we have implemented a 'walkathon' program."

Inkster says making that change also leads to more proceeds going to the school rather than a large portion of what's earned in fundraising going to a sales company.

"Making the healthy choice the easy choice" Inkster says is another way BLEND works to get kids to eat healthier. Area grocery stores like Coborn's and Cash Wise participate in BLEND's NuVal (Nutrition Value) program.

"It's a score from 1-100 -- the higher the number, the more nutritious it is for you," Inkster says. "It's a simple and quick way for people to see the nutritional value when they get it at the source."

Inkster says more activity ideas, recipes, and other health tips can be found on their website.