While Ottumwa did not become a Blue Zones demonstration site Wednesday morning, the goal still remains to infuse healthful choices into the community.
The Blue Zones Project is a component of Gov. Terry Branstad’s Healthiest State Initiative to make Iowa the No. 1 healthiest state in the nation by 2016.
Iowa was the 19th healthiest state in the nation in 2010, according to the 2010 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. In 2011, Iowa jumped to the 16th healthiest state.
Out of Iowa’s 99 counties, Wapello County ranks as the 94th healthiest.
Six additional communities were announced as Blue Zones demonstration sites Wednesday morning at Wellmark Headquarters in Des Moines: Marion, Muscatine, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Sioux City and Oskaloosa.
“The mindset of the board all along has been even if we’re not selected, we’ll continue to strive to have the community certified,” said Lynelle Diers, clinical director for Wapello County Public Health. “I think it’s mixed emotions today. We can still achieve success within our communities, and we’ll be able to do it at our own pace now.”
Diers said one of Ottumwa’s advantages is since all the groundwork has been done to become a Blue Zone demonstration site, her group has the blueprint “of what it entails to become certified.”
These include checklists for different entities: local government, work sites, schools, grocery stores and locally owned restaurants.
Some changes could include offering vegetables and salads as the default sides at restaurants and making fries or chips request-only.
While Blue Zones officials initially said community support would be a determining factor in the final decision, Ottumwa ranked No. 2 with 15.12 percent of the population pledging their support.
“I definitely do not think that was a factor in their decision,” Diers said. “We will find out next week hopefully what was the shortcomings of why they didn’t feel we would be able to be designated.”
Blue Zones officials will travel to Ottumwa next week to talk with the committee about the city’s strengths and weaknesses in the Blue Zones process.
Courtney Greene, of Wellmark, said the community selections were based on factors such as strong leadership and stable government, community contribution and participation and readiness shown through prior successes, among others.
“Just because Ottumwa was not selected doesn’t mean they still can’t pursue the Blue Zones principles,” Greene said. “Those who were not selected will really be given an opportunity to pursue Blue Zones principles on their own without the demonstration site status.”
She also said that since the initiative is statewide, anyone can take part online through web-based tools geared toward a healthful lifestyle.
“We’re really proud of the work Ottumwa did in the application process,” she said. “We look forward to remaining engaged with the folks in Ottumwa.”
Diers also said the University of Iowa Prevention Research Center for Rural Health has applied for funding to be used in Ottumwa with programs focused on the Latino population, as well as a health survey next spring.
“One of the professors wants to explore and understand community-based social networks associated with healthy eating and active lifestyles among Latinos,” Diers said. “Another professor wants to do a similar project, but focus on the elderly.”
Diers, who has spearheaded the Blue Zones effort in Ottumwa from the beginning with the help of several committees, said it will take time to re-educate the community.
“We need to be more conscientious about getting up and moving freely versus sitting in front of the TV for hours on weekends and at night,” she said.
Healthways will pay for three full-time positions in those communities chosen as demonstration sites, while each city will be expected to provide for three other full-time positions as well as office space.
In October, it was announced that Ottumwa and Oskaloosa, along with 10 other large communities, were in the running to become Blue Zones demonstration sites.
Last fall, nine smaller communities, including Fairfield, were named Blue Zones demonstration sites for communities with populations of less than 10,000.
In May, four communities became the first Blue Zones demonstration sites in Iowa: Cedar Falls, Mason City, Spencer and Waterloo.
A Blue Zone is defined as a geographical area where the population reaches 100 years old at a rate 10 times faster than in the United States. Examples include Sardinia, Italy, and Okinawa, Japan.
On the web:
For more information, go online to www.bluezonesproject.com.