While Ottumwa was not chosen in the first round of Blue Zones demonstration sites, that doesn’t mean the work is over.
Four cities were announced as Blue Zones demonstration sites Friday morning: Cedar Falls, Mason City, Spencer and Waterloo.
“We will continue to look at this as an opportunity,” said Lynelle Diers, Wapello County’s clinical director of public health. “We plan on applying again in the next round.”
The Blue Zones Project is the cornerstone of Gov. Terry Branstad’s Healthiest State Initiative, with the goal to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.
“We wanted to get every Iowan to take ownership of their own health,” Branstad said at the conference in Des Moines Friday, “and focus not just on health care but all things in the environment that can improve the health and well-being of citizens of the state.”
A number of communities were gathered at the Wellmark Headquarters Convention Conference Center in Des Moines Friday morning. The cities of Ames, Cedar Falls, Mason City, Muscatine, Spencer, Waterloo and Sioux City and several of their mayors celebrated the results.
Diers said a Blue Zones representative will be in Ottumwa next week to discuss the community’s strong and weak points and what needs to be done to potentially be selected in the next round.
Ten communities in total will be selected as demonstration sites. Ottumwa and the other communities not chosen in the first round will send in applications in August for consideration for the second round. Blue Zones officials will do site visits again in the fall and by January, they will be ready to announce another slew of finalists, Blue Zones officials said.
Blue Zones officials will also begin site visits in selected smaller communities in June. The city of Fairfield was one of the 10 communities with populations under 10,000 chosen for a site visit.
The second application will not be as intensive as the first one, nor will the site visit, Diers said.
“One of our weaknesses was community engagement, though during the last two weeks we doubled our numbers,” Diers said. “We will continue to go out in the community to try to push up that number.”
She said Blue Zones officials were looking for community engagement close to 20 percent, and Ottumwa currently sits at 14.54 percent, putting it in sixth place out of the 11 communities.
Just because Ottumwa was not selected in this first round, though, doesn’t mean the advisory board and committee members can’t begin working on its 14 initiatives to make Ottumwa Blue Zones-certified.
“I’ve started to talk with grocery stores to see if they could have a check-out aisle that doesn’t include candy, which is a distraction for kids, so it would be a family check-out,” Diers said. “And at restaurants, we’re trying to make the menus healthier and highlighting those entrees that are healthier.”
The four communities were chosen because they showed a lot of community engagement and their community leaders worked well together, Blue Zones officials said.
The Blue Zones Project would never have happened without the findings of Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” where he gathered his research of communities around the world with the longest-living populations.
“We live in an environment of ease and abundance, and biologically and evolutionally speaking we crave calories, we crave sweet things and we want to rest as much as we can,” Buettner said at the conference.
Buettner said “there is no silver bullet but there is silver buckshot” to incorporating Blue Zones principles into communities across the state.
“The only way to make that happen is to find the cities who want it and the cities whose leaders work well together,” Buettner said. “The only way this is going to work is if you can orchestrate the perfect storm of grassroots leadership ... and the media.”
That “perfect storm” is something Ottumwa’s been pushing since they began the Blue Zones process.
“We’re the perfect storm because we have a lot of things happening right now that have converged on Ottumwa to make us a healthier community,” Diers said, such as a University of Wisconsin study targeting Ottumwa for its obesity. “We want to see if we can see a reduction in our percent. The last assessment was at 29 percent.”
Ottumwans can still pledge their support for the Blue Zones Project.
Go to www.bluezonesproject.com/citizens/signup or text BZP to 772937.