Cedar Rapids Pitches Plan to Become Blue Zone Community

Staff Reports

A crowd forms to show their support for the proposed Blue Zone Project which would benefit Cedar Rapids and surrounding communities as the Blue Zone Project Team arrives, on Thursday, March 1, 2012, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Blue Zone project is a joint effort between the community and Blue Zone itself, to help create happier, healthier lives. Cedar Rapids is one of eleven finalists for the Blue Zone Project in Iowa. (Nikole Hanna/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Lauren Peikoff

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Blue Zones supporters will find out in May whether or not Cedar Rapids will be selected as a demonstration site, after a visit Thursday, March 1, by a selection team.

A dozen “judges” from Wellmark and Healthways took note as city officials and representatives of local organizations rolled out the welcome at CSPS, 1103 Third St. SE.

A crowd of supporters wore blue and held signs supporting the initiative outside the hall in the New Bohemia district of Cedar Rapids.

That show of support is crucial as the selection team weighs the attributes of each of the 11 finalist communities.

“The most important thing in the communities that are successful – it comes down to the quality of the leadership and the connectivity of the community,” said Justin Smith, one of the Healthways representatives who traveled from Nashville and other cities to visit Cedar Rapids.

Motivation, committing resources to change the health of residents, demonstrating success of prior initiatives and a volunteer base are also important, he said.

The presentation included photos from highly attended walks in Cedar Rapids, information about efforts to add trails and sidewalks and discussion of healthy food choices.

“It’s where healthy living happens naturally,” Sarah Ordover, past board president of Cedar Rapids City Market Inc. said of the forthcoming NewBo City Market, just across the street from CSPS.

Numerous NewBo market representatives attended the site visit in support of the initiative.

Three or four cities in Iowa will be announced in May as Blue Zones demonstration sites.

Those communities will receive expert advice to help improve their residents’ emotional, physical and social health through environmental and policy changes.

Joel Spoonheim of Healthways said the support goes both ways. Blue Zones hires experts who provide blue prints and best practices to transform work sites, schools, grocery stores, restaurants, community policy and individuals, he said, but those entities must also make a commitment to change.

“When enough of these come together, you’re certified as a Blue Zones community,” he said.

Blue Zones is the cornerstone of Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative, an effort to make Iowa the nation’s healthiest state by 2016.

Doing so could save the state up to $16 billion over five years in health care costs and lost productivity

Besides Cedar Rapids, other finalists in the running for the designation are Ames, Cedar Falls, Clinton, Davenport, Mason City, Muscatine, Ottumwa, Sioux City, Spencer and Waterloo.

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.

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