Blue Zones Oskaloosa Continues To Evolve
Oskaloosa, Iowa – After passing the Oskaloosa City Council on a 4-3 vote earlier this year, the Blue Zones Oskaloosa project continues to plan and implement changes in the community in an effort to make the healthy choice the easy choice.
The Blue Zones Project in Oskaloosa officially launched on April 14th, with an event held at the Oskaloosa High School. Blue Zones representatives say that 750 people attended the event. Oskaloosa News couldn’t confirm those attendance numbers independently, with estimates during the speech portion of the evening being approximately 400 attendees in size.
Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner was in Oskaloosa to help the city kick off its journey.
During the kick-off event, Mary Lawyer, Director of the Blue Zones Project in Iowa, addressed some concerns about the project. “One of the things that’s often misunderstood about the Blue Zones Project is [that] it’s really about choices.”
Lawyer said that Buettner looked toward re-engineering our environment to help make the healthy choice an easier choice.
Just one day after the kickoff, April 15th, the Oskaloosa Food Policy Workshop quickly got down to the business of addressing the next steps in the process of transforming Oskaloosa into a Blue Zone Community.
But, if ordinances are enacted from the Oskaloosa Food Policy Workshop, choices may be more difficult to come by for some area businesses and developers. Number 5 of the group’s list was Zoning of Fast Food away from Schools and Public Playgrounds. “An ordinance to restrict new fast-food establishments from locating near school grounds and public playgrounds. The ordinance should stipulate a minimum distance of 500 feet (standard used by many cities) or greater. Existing fast-food establishments would be exempt from the ordinance. The ordinance could include restrictions on convenience stores and mobile food vending within a certain distance of schools and playgrounds as these food vendors offer an abundance of unhealthy food options.”
The group’s concern about the impact of fast food on the Oskaloosa youth was as follows, “Without zoning regulations, fast-food establishments cluster near schools and playgrounds to develop brand loyalty and a taste for fast food from an early age. The easy availability of fast food near schools and playgrounds introduces children to a large number of unhealthy foods that compete with healthier options in the school cafeteria or at home.”
Going on, the document says,“Zoning regulations that increase the distance of fast-food establishments from schools and playgrounds decrease children’s consumption of fast food and reduce their risk of being overweight and obese.”
Oskaloosa Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt, who was in attendace at the August meeting of the Food Policy Workshop, told those in attendance that this ordinance would be difficult for Oskaloosa. The group moved on from the discussion over the proposed ordinance.
Number 6 was an initiative to restrict Energy-Drink sales to minors. “Adopt a policy to restrict energy-drink sales to any person under 18 years old. With support from the city and school district, the policy could first restrict sales in government facilities and schools. A community-wide sales restriction could be more challenging.”
Another option being looked at was “Healthy Food-and-Beverage Policy in Public and Private Recreation”. “A policy that establishes nutrition standards for all foods and beverages sold or served at public and private recreation facilities, including concession stands at youth sporting events, city-run recreation centers, and privately run recreation centers. The city of Oskaloosa should ask for voluntary compliance from privately owned recreation facilities. At a minimum, the policy should require that 50 percent of the foods and beverages served in public and private recreation facilities meet the nutrition standards. The policy may use a phase-in approach to increase the percentage of foods and beverages meeting the nutrition standards over time.”
Policies like those listed are part of the initiative by Blue Zones to sculpt the culture of the community in regards to its food policy.
The Oskaloosa Food Policy Workshop is part of the planning process for the Blue Zones Project. “We began our work during the development of the blueprint for implementation,” explained Jennifer Furler, who is from the Blue Zones Project in the Des Moines Headquarters. Furler said the workshops are to “engage stakeholders to set priorities” and to transform the environment, to make the healthy choice the easy choice, in Oskaloosa.
The second meeting was there to see what choices best fit Oskaloosa, and “to see where opportunities lie as a community. That’s definitely part of the next steps, is we look at planning around these specific policies.”
One of the challenges set out by the food policy workshop was “Not enough communication to multicultural and low-income communities.” During the August meeting, there was little representation from those groups of individuals at the workshop, and Furler said that, “When we were doing the brainstorming around key leaders, I think that you saw things like the faith community, youth leadership, public health, the area agency on aging, other business leaders. So you see them start to brainstorm about how we diversify the network and engage additional participants.”
Matt Russell, Drake University Agricultural Law Center, is working with Blue Zones as a Consultant. He gave some perspective about how Oskaloosa is progressing with its Blue Zones designation. Russell said that participation during the sessions in Oskaloosa, that he’s facilitated, where nearly all those that RSVP show up. “This community is taking this very seriously.”
Russell added that it also seems as though “Oskaloosa is really embracing this [Blue Zones].”
At the first Oskaloosa City Council meeting in April of 2014, Oskaloosa City Council-member Jason Van Zetten expressed concern that he didn’t want to regulate choice for businesses.
“I understand your concerns, but there’s more to it than that and we want to have the opportunity to prove that,” said Miranda Cummings, Engagement Lead for the Oskaloosa Blue Zones Project.
At the June 2nd Oskaloosa City Council Meeting, Oskaloosa Blue Zones supporter Dawn Collins told the council, “This is not a government initiative imposed on us, this is something the community leaders chose to pursue.”
Collins went on to say, “We need you to look inside yourselves for the courage to vote yes for this resolution despite your concerns… . Don’t get caught up in the minutia yet… And please remember this is a non-binding resolution.”
Council-member Van Zetten said he believes that it’s fine for a person to choose to participate in Blue Zones for themselves, “But it’s not for us [city council] to regulate it from the City.”
Ultimately, Blue Zones will fail to designate Oskaloosa as a Blue Zones community without backing from the city. Cummings, in an interview in April, said, “We’re trying to provide a menu of options. That’s what Blue Zones project is, is helping to make that healthy choice, the easy choice.”
Those “easier choices” may be made easier by the implementation of ordinances from the city that could impact how Oskaloosa residents dine out, and fuel up with on-the-go snacks at convenience stores.
“Without the support from our leaders, in bringing in those options, it wouldn’t be possible for us to provide that for our community,” said Cummings.
Oskaloosa Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt said that the project needs council support. “My understanding is, for us to call ourselves a Blue Zone Community, we have to have the city council wanting it in the first place… It’s my concern that if the council isn’t fully on board with it, that this thing is going to fall through.”
Oskaloosa City council ultimately passed the resolution on a 4-3 vote.
The Oskaloosa School Board also debated Blue Zones and how it would be a part of the school district.
During the conversation, in regards to the Blue Zone Community Action Pledge, Reiter said that he has been working with the Blue Zone and Power 9 committees. The school would need to obtain 54 points on the pledge to be Blue Zone.
Neil Hadden expressed some concern about the deletion of treats for individual students on their birthday and combining them into a single day per week. He said he was well aware of how kids looked forward to sharing treats on their birthday.
“I’ll be the first to admit I’d love to help Mr. Dursky eat those 4 cupcakes every day,” said board member Tom Richardson. “But I know that’s not good for me. So I’m going to have to disagree with Neal on that. We have to make a stand somewhere on improving health.”
Before the board vote, board president Carl Drost shared his thoughts about Blue Zones. “I am voting against this for personal reasons. One is, I don’t like federal mandates. I dislike state mandates and I dislike mandates coming from the Blue Zone telling us what we’re going to do. I don’t think there’s a board member here who likes state mandates that are unfunded. And we don’t like national federal mandates that are unfunded. I like military history and on Friday, with the 70th anniversary of D-Day, I watched those old guys that went and stormed that crazy bank of Normandy. I think they went and fought and died. So first, we don’t speak German. Secondly, we don’t have a dictator. And thirdly, I have the right to eat what I want and take personal responsibility for my own physical condition.”
It passed on a 5-2 vote by the board with Drost and Hadden voting no.
The “cup-cake” discussion hit a fever pitch shortly after school started. Michelle Purdum commented, “Giving Options to eat healthy is one thing…. Demanding by limitation is another.”
Kristi Heaton-Cox said, “Yes, but I think not letting kids take cupcakes to school for their b-day is a little too far. They get excited about that.”
There are many supporters of the healthy choice birthday alternative. Keith Fisher said, “Not being able to take cupcakes shouldn’t really be a concern. It’s a matter of making a healthier choice. What if a kid in that class has diabetes? Since we’re all about making the individual child feel special, how would that make them feel? Where as a more healthier option would include them.”
Debbie Cummings added, “I totally agree! But have you ever seen a kid get excited about a dolphin banana fruit cup? Or raisin ants on a celery log? What about a butterfly made out of apple slices? Man… to see the beaming smiles on their faces, without the excess sugars and calories destroying their bodies, is even more fulfilling in my eyes.”
In a recent non-scientific poll conducted by Oskaloosa News, the community support for the project remains split, with 41% saying they are not in support of Blue Zones, with 40% saying that they are in favor of the project. 8% are unsure about their support of the project, while 11% are unsure what the project is.
What exactly is a Blue Zone?
According to the official Blue Zone website, “The Blue Zones Project™ is a collaboration between Wellmark® Blue Cross® and Blue Shield® and Healthways to help make Iowa #1 in the nation for well-being, as measured by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index®.”
“The Blue Zones Project™ is a community well-being improvement initiative designed to make healthy choices easier through permanent changes to environment, policy, and social networks.”
So, why does Wellmark® Blue Cross® and Blue Shield® care about the project? It could ultimately impact the company’s bottom line. In a response to the Ames Tribune, Laura Jackson, Wellmark’s Executive Vice-President for health care strategy and policy said, “Wellmark has, as a corporate goal, to bring the rate of health care cost increases in line with the consumer price index by 2014.”
Healthways was hired by Wellmark® Blue Cross® to help lead the Blue Zone initiative. According to the Healthways website, “Healthways offers comprehensive solutions that improve well-being, decrease healthcare costs, enhance performance and generate economic value for our customers.”
Decorah is one of two cities that chose to move beyond the Blue Zones and forge their own path forward. The Power 9 team there cited continuing changes to the Blue Zones Project model, they didn’t believe certification would be feasible.
“For people who think this is right for them, we have 20 evidence based ways where they can get healthier mindlessly,” said Buettner.
The Blue Zones Project will take 18 months in Oskaloosa, and Buettner had a prediction for Oskaloosa. “I would guess this town will weigh about one ton less than it does today [April 14, 2014]. It will add 3,000 years of life expectancy to the population here. The average person here will report 3 to 5 percent higher happiness. I think all those things you’ll see.”