While working for Hennepin County Public Health Promotions (HCPHP) during the past eight years, Dianne Blaydes noticed a troubling trend.

From 1998 to 2006, Hennepin County records showed that the percentage of adult residents classified as overweight or obese had increased from 48 to 54.

"Through some of our more or less surveillance of Hennepin County's health of its residents and environment, we've learned that Hennepin County residents are significantly overweight and physically inactive," Blaydes said, adding that experts only expect the trend to continue.

To help promote more active lifestyles, HCPHP is sponsoring its first annual Step To It Community Challenge -- a competition pitting five metro suburbs against one another to see whose residents can accumulate the most steps taken in a four-week period.

Other forms of exercise, such as cycling and jogging, will also be converted to step equivalents and counted in the final tally.

The challenge began Friday and features the cities of Brooklyn Park, Crystal, Golden Valley, Robbinsdale and St. Louis Park.

Blaydes said her department thought the best way to increase physical fitness in the community was to have it focus around an activity everyone can do: walking.

As for the competition aspect of the challenge, that just provides motivation, she said.

Alice Browne, a Brooklyn Park resident for more than 30 years, said she already walks at least 10,000 steps per day and thought the challenge would be a good way to get more people involved.

"People don't necessarily like to walk by themselves," Browne said. "[This competition] might give them a reason to start."

Residents aren't the only ones getting involved, either. Council members of the neighboring cities of Golden Valley and St. Louis Park have already challenged each other in the competition.

Mitch Anderson is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.