Corridor Cities Reapply for Blue Zones Designation
By Cindy Hadish, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Corridor communities are forging ahead with plans to become healthier places to live, whether or not they turn “blue.”
Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Marion are each reapplying to become Blue Zones demonstration sites, but intend to proceed with health initiatives regardless of the outcome.
“Becoming a Blue Zones community is a process that Cedar Rapids’ leadership is committed to engaging in,” said Stephanie Neff, deputy director of Linn County Public Health and chairwoman of the Power 9 advisory team for the Cedar Rapids initiative.
Blue Zones is based on principles in author Dan Buettner's book of the same name, referring to places around the world where people live longer, healthier lives.
Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Mason City and Spencer were announced in May as Iowa's first Blue Zones demonstration sites. Applications for the second – final - round for large cities are due this month. An announcement is scheduled for January.
Decorah is among finalists for towns with populations under 10,000. Results will be announced in October.
Demonstration sites receive expert advice to implement changes that help improve residents' emotional, physical and social health.
Neff said having that expertise would be a bonus, but Cedar Rapids – a first-round finalist - will move forward with health initiatives regardless of whether or not the city is chosen.
The city’s large population created challenges with organization, cohesion and communication, Neff said, all of which are being addressed.
Residents are invited to an event next week to discuss efforts, including healthy eating, active living, work sites and schools
Initiatives can be as simple as Hy-Vee grocery stores that now offer a free banana to children, rather than a cookie, Neff said.
Iowa City had previously applied with North Liberty and Coralville, but is applying this time on its own, said Nancy Quellhorst, president and CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce.
Quellhorst said if Iowa City is chosen, the city will share what it learns with its neighbors, including Cedar Rapids.
“We don’t see this as a competition,” she said, noting that other cities also have agreed to share knowledge. “We’d be delighted if Cedar Rapids gets the designation and we can learn from them.”
Quellhorst said Johnson County is forming “activity moais,” groups of residents who serve as support systems.
“It gives people a sense of purpose and socialization,” she said.
Schools are working on adding more gardens and forming walking school buses, in which adults supervise students walking to and from school. Quellhorst said some restaurants also are on board to make healthy choices, such as salads, the automatic side dish instead of French fries.
The Marion Chamber of Commerce is asking Marion employers to support the Blue Zones effort by signing a commitment letter found at www.marioncc.org.
Marion residents also are being asked to take the Blue Zones pledge online at www.bluezonesproject.com.
Blue Zones is a cornerstone of Iowa's healthiest state initiative, an effort to make Iowa -- now 16th -- the nation's healthiest state under the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index by 2016. Doing so could save the state up to $16 billion over five years in health care costs and lost productivity.
The program is funded over five years by a $25 million commitment from Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
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