Blue Zones Project Details Announced for Iowa’s Health Initiative

By Cindy Hadish, Reporter

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By James Steward

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Mayor Ron Corbett realized the irony as he moved to grab a cookie Tuesday on the way out of a press conference that highlighted Iowa’s new Healthiest State Initiative.

Officials from Healthways and Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, along with author Dan Buettner, discussed how communities can apply for the Blue Zones Project, which will provide experts to help communities make the healthy choice the easy choice.

“I would love to have Cedar Rapids selected as one of the Blue Zones,” Corbett said before noticing the cookies, set out on a table for a neighboring event.

Apples might have been the healthier choice, he admitted.

That’s the point of the effort, being funded over five years with $25 million from Wellmark to pay for the expert advice.

Schools and businesses, government and individuals need to work together to make environmental changes that make a difference in residents’ lifestyles and their health, said Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones” and “Thrive.”

The National Geographic writer researched places around the world where people live longer, healthier lives.

Diets and gym memberships are short-term, he said. Long-term changes in health, which results in lower health care costs for chronic diseases associated with obesity, diabetes and other conditions, stem from an environment “where the active option is the easy option.”

“This is a big day,” Buettner said at the event at The Hotel at Kirkwood Community College. “It represents a different way for Iowa and the rest of the nation to think about health.”

Ten Iowa communities will be chosen as Blue Zones as part of the Healthiest State Initiative, a plan to make Iowa — currently ranked 19th — the healthiest state by 2016.

An informational webinar will be presented at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27, to explain how communities can participate.

Blue Zones Project “road shows” will be held from Oct. 10-13 to further explain the project.

Cedar Rapids is one of the four sites chosen for the road show presentations.

Whether or not the city is chosen as a Blue Zone depends on several factors, Buettner said, including how ready the community is for change, if volunteers are available and if different entities are willing to work together.

Communities need to submit a statement of interest by Oct. 28. Those that meet the minimum criteria must submit an application by Jan. 4.

Finalists will be notified on Feb. 10, 2012, with the first two to three communities chosen as Blue Zones announced in May 2012.

Communities selected will become demonstration sites that share best practices. Ideas include connecting trails to make it easier to bike or walk to work and setting up “walking school busses” where senior volunteers ensure children can walk safely to school.

Any infrastructure changes must be funded by those communities.

Corbett noted that residents here must weigh those costs with the greater costs of health care.

Project leaders say lifestyle changes could put $16 billion back in the state’s economy from health care expenses and lost productivity.

“That is the cost that you have to hedge it out with,” Corbett said.

FYI

For more information, see: www.bluezonesproject.com

Residents can improve their community’s chances of being selected by registering support at that site or by texting “BZP” to 772937.

Call (719) 325-4783 to listen to the Sept. 27 webinar by phone.

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