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Cedar Rapids Named One of 11 Finalists for Iowa Blue Zones

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa Whether it's eating 6-inch turkey subs or working out on-campus at Des Moines University, Gov. Terry Branstad is doing his part to lead Iowa on its journey to become the healthiest state in America.

"My weight is lower than it was when I took office one year ago," said Branstad, who announced the 11 Blue Zones finalists Friday in Cedar Rapids. "I try to lead by example."

Supporters of the Cedar Rapids effort to become a Blue Zones community also hope to lead by example, as the city was named one of the finalists under Iowa's Blue Zones initiative.

Joining Cedar Rapids are Ames, Cedar Falls, Clinton, Davenport, Mason City, Muscatine, Ottumwa, Sioux City, Spencer and Waterloo. The cities will compete to be one of the first three or four demonstration sites for the Blue Zones project.

The project is a main component of Iowa's healthiest state initiative, an effort to make Iowa now 19th the nation's healthiest state under the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index by 2016.

Site visits begin later this month, with the first round of demonstration sites announced in May. Those communities will receive expert advice to help residents improve their emotional, physical and social health through environmental and policy changes, such as building trails.

Laura Jackson, executive vice president of Wellmark, said next month 10 smaller towns also will be announced as finalists, an addition to the original plan.

"The applications were so different between the small communities and the large ones," she said, noting that small towns could be placed on a fast-track to transform their communities.

The idea stems from author Dan Buettner, whose book, "The Blue Zones," highlights communities around the world where people live longer, healthier lives.

Wellmark is contributing $25 million over a five-year period to fund the initiative.

In all, 54 Iowa communities submitted applications for the project. The Iowa City area, Dubuque and Des Moines were among communities that did not make the cut.

Branstad noted that addressing lifestyle changes could allow Iowa to redirect up to $16 billion over five years, with $11 billion saved in health care costs and $5 billion in lost productivity.

"We know that poor health behaviors lead to higher health care costs," Branstad said during Friday's Corridor HealthCare Summit at the Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids. "It's not affordable; it's not sustainable."

Branstad and Ric Jurgens, CEO of Hy-Vee, both mentioned that transformations will even come to the Iowa State Fair.

Jurgens said Hy-Vee has a Healthy Fair Fare initiative under way, with such items as fruit or lean meat on a stick.

Branstad admitted he's not a fan of last year's butter on-a-stick.

"I think it's gross, to tell you the truth," he said. "We hope to have some healthier things on a stick this year."

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