Blue Zones Project Evaluates Oskaloosa

 
Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner address attendees to the Oskaloosa Blue Zone kick-off event.

Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner address attendees to the Oskaloosa Blue Zone kick-off event.

Will Oskaloosa become a Blue Zones Certified Community?

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The Blue Zones party got off with a bang and celebration in April of 2014. Now, just over a year later, the process is looking to turn into more of a maintenance mode. During the past fourteen months, The Blue Zones Project Oskaloosa has worked to help facilitate in making the healthy choice the easiest choice, such as making it easier for people to walk in a community. Being a more social community, and having groups of friends that support each other is another aspect of a healthy lifestyle. In the Blue Zones Project, that social group is called a Moai Walking Group.

When Iowa Governor Terry Branstad took office in 2010, one of his first initiatives was to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation. In an August of 2010 press release, “A centerpiece of the Healthiest State Initiative will be the Blue Zones Project™, through which people will transform their community and live measurably longer. To ignite this change, Wellmark Blue Cross® and Blue Shield® will financially support the transformation of 10 Iowa communities into Blue Zones Communities™ over the next five years.”

Oskaloosa tossed its hat into the ring, along with 83 other communities, for that first round selection by presenting a ‘Statement of Interest’ in October of 2011. Ultimately, Oskaloosa wasn’t chosen in that first round, and then Executive Director at the United Way of Mahaska County Brianne Fitzgerald reported, “While we were hopeful to partner with the Blue Zone Project, we will still continue to work toward making the ideals of the program a reality in Mahaska County.”

In October of 2012, Oskaloosa was continuing to advocate on becoming a Blue Zones Community. The Blue Zones Project team visited at the end of that month, when community leaders, employers, schools and the media gathered at the Musco Technology Center on the campus of William Penn University.

There, the presentation of community readiness, to be a Blue Zones Project Demonstration Site, was made by those representing those various groups. The community got a better understanding at that time of what Blue Zones is.

In January of 2013, Oskaloosa was chosen to be a Blue Zones Demonstration site, along with Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Marion, Muscatine, and Sioux City. The six new communities joined thirteen other communities already in the program.

With that year and a little more now in place, the question turns to if Oskaloosa will ultimately be designated a Blue Zones Community.

This last week, Shannon Sanders, Engagement Lead for Blue Zones Project Iowa, and Nick Buettner, who works for Blue Zones Project in Minneapolis and is the brother of Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner, were in Oskaloosa visiting with those members and groups in the community who have aligned themselves with the Blue Zones philosophy.

Those sites include grocery stores, work sites, restaurants, the Oskaloosa Schools and the City of Oskaloosa. They shared their stories with the Blue Zones Project and how it was implemented. Also of interest to Blue Zones was listening to those involved with other engagements like the Moai Walking Group. “Heard a lot about partnerships. That’s a really common theme here,” said Sanders. “I felt like they took an approach that works for this community.”

Sanders said that they are learning a lot from Oskaloosa, “and each community is unique.”

Buettner spent his time on work-sites and restaurants. He talked about a local restaurant that didn’t take anything off the menu, “they added a couple of things to the menu that allowed people who wanted to take the healthy choice the ability to order it, without taking anyone else’s choice away.”

Buettner said that work-sites would choose to garden together, or eat healthy lunches together. Others formed walking groups or Moai’s.

Buettner has traveled with his brother to the original Blue Zones sites around the world, like Okinawa, Japan. Buettner said the process of making healthy living choices is one that comes naturally to the community versus a purposeful thought. “For them, longevity just happened to them,” says Buettner.

Buettner said he sees correlations between those original Blue Zone places he’s visited and Oskaloosa. “You have a strong community where people have a lot of pride in your community. A lot of pride in who you are and what the future of this town is. A lot of passion around that.”

Other correlations is the desire to spread the message of health to others around you. “It goes back to what I’ve seen in those Blue Zones, is the passion around health, the passion around family. People caring about each other and coming together as a community. It’s one of our principles.”

The project hasn’t always had smooth sailing in Oskaloosa, and has ran into a few bumps in the road towards implementation in Oskaloosa.

Oskaloosa City Councilperson Jason Van Zetten has been vocal with his concerns about the project. Van Zetten brought up a concern with the project at a city council meeting shortly before the project kick-off event. “Are you guys going to start regulating companies and businesses to do certain things?”

Those questions from some Oskaloosa City Council-members continue, with Council-member Aaron Ver Steeg asking Blue Zones Power 9 members if the streets weren’t currently being shared between bicycles and cars. “I’ve been here for 74 years and I’ve ridden a bike for approximately 65 or 70 of those years. I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with a car, even when I was a little kid.”

The comment came in regards to a transportation plan being presented to the council in a work session.

Sanders said that she wouldn’t have called the debate ‘bumps in the road’ for the Blue Zones Project in Oskaloosa. “I feel like we’ve had some really nice leaders” that have rallied around the passion.

Buettner said he’s seen a lot of people “really stepping forward to work to try and make the healthy choice the easy choice in their community, without trying to take away choices for other people.”

The question still remains if Oskaloosa will then be named a Blue Zones Certified Community.

That won’t be answered until all the material from Oskaloosa is reviewed by the partners of the program and an assessment will then be put together.

Sanders says that the review information should be available in 60 days.

When it comes to the benefit to the community if designated a Certified Blue Zones community, Buettner said it will help lower health care costs in the community. He also said, “It’s our way of putting a stamp on this community to say that you have done a lot of work in this community to try to make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Posted by on Jun 15 2015. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

1 Comment for “Blue Zones Project Evaluates Oskaloosa”

  1. […] Blue Zones Project evaluates Oskaloosa The Blue Zones party got off with a bang and celebration in April of 2014. Now, just over a year later, the process is looking to turn into more of a maintenance mode. During the past fourteen months, The Blue Zones Project Oskaloosa has worked to help facilitate in making the healthy choice the easiest choice, such as making it easier for people to walk in a community. Being a more social community, and having groups of friends that support each other is another aspect of a healthy lifestyle. (Oskaloosa News) […]

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