The Ottumwa Courier

May 6, 2013

Lack of Blue Zone designation doesn't deter committee's focus on health

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

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."

The team is split into four focus groups: environment; health, nutrition and well-being; workforce; and education.

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."