OTTUMWA — While Ottumwa did not receive designation as a Blue Zones demonstration site in January, the committee behind the effort did not disband and is, in fact, recharging.
The group of approximately 13 people has now reorganized as the "Community Transformation Project," referencing the $88,000 Community Transformation Grant that Wapello County Public Health will receive each year for five years.
"But we're also expanding the capabilities beyond what that grant is, because the board was so committed that we do want to see our community change," said Lynelle Diers, public health's clinical director. "We realize that in order to make an impact for individuals, we also have to look at our environment around us totally, including policies."
In terms of health, Wapello County has ranked poorly out of Iowa's 99 counties for years. Diers said getting out of that rut will be a steep learning curve.
"Maybe the way we did it was not really the best way," Diers said. "Now let's rethink how we're doing things. I think all of us are guilty. I'm not perfect. We all struggle to do the best we can."
In Wapello County, the biggest obstacle to healthful living is "reaching the lower socio-economic and empowering them so they feel like they can do it," she said.
"Sometimes they're strapped down and can't participate or join certain things because they don't have the money to do so," she said.
Working families will also be a focal point.
"It's hard for them to find that half-hour of time for themselves," she said. "They're working all day long, then they're running the kids all over after school and they don't have that 'me time.'"
One benefit of not being tied down to Blue Zones guidelines is that the committee can make its own, she said.
"Since we weren't selected, we can do it our way," she said. "The timeline is ours now, and we can individualize it to our community."
Since Gov. Terry Branstad launched his mission in 2011 to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016, the state has moved up in national rankings from 16th healthiest state to ninth as of February, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.
"We certainly felt the mission and effort to continue to try to make Ottumwa a healthier place to live was an important one," said Ottumwa YMCA executive director Tom Sisler. "Some [initiatives] are patterned after what other Blue Zones committees are doing, some are really us going off, doing what we feel we need to do here."
The team is split into four focus groups: environment; health, nutrition and well-being; workforce; and education.
Environment will look at "what's around us physically," Diers said, including the trail system, bicycle paths, sidewalks and recreational facilities and activities.
"We have to realize this is long-term," she said. "This is not something that's going to go away in two to three years. Some things take years to work toward, and workforce is probably going to be one that will take a lot longer, because when we're talking workforce it goes back to worksite wellness. Statistics show that if an employee is not happy, that is not a productive employee."
Health, nutrition and well-being will focus on improving availability of fresh, local products as well as increasing physical activity in schools.
"We're so accustomed to fast food because it's quick and easy," she said. "The younger generations can't remember when things were different."