Courier Staff Writer
The Blue Zones initiative is not just about diet and exercise.
It’s going to take many long-term policy and behavioral changes to make Ottumwa a healthier community, Blue Zones officials said.
In an update with three Blue Zones officials Monday night, Ottumwa’s Blue Zones committee said “it’s possible” to implement the majority of the Blue Zones principles.
The Blue Zones Project is a component of Gov. Terry Branstad’s Healthiest State Initiative to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.
Wapello County Public Health Clinical Director Lynelle Diers said the Power 9 Board and leadership committee have the right people to implement Blue Zones. Diers said the goal is to keep the community engaged and to continue to educate them on what being a Blue Zones community means.
“People still have it in their head that it’s about diet and exercise,” Diers said. “But it’s a community lifestyle transformation.”
Lori Reeves, chair of the Rural Health Education Partnership at Indian Hills, said it’s about taking a different approach so people are not just signing their names.
“People who pledge their support sometimes don’t know what they’re pledging,” said Mary Lawyer, Blue Zones project director. “They need to take action.”
While Lawyer was concerned that Blue Zones did not have the full support of the city council and mayor, City Administrator Joe Helfenberger assured her that all were on board.
“My only concern is I didn’t see a letter from [Mayor Frank Flanders],” Lawyer said.
Helfenberger said the nature of the mayor’s position is that it’s not a full-time position, allowing the mayor to sustain a full-time job outside of his mayoral duties.
The city will also provide space in City Hall should the city be deemed a Blue Zones demonstration site, Helfenberger said.
In terms of the school pledge, the Ottumwa School District has already implemented several of the policies, while there are still many more policies Director of Community Programs Kim Hellige said are possible.
Several policies already implemented include enforcing a tobacco-free campus, limiting vending machine access during the school day, prohibiting unhealthy food options and incorporating nutrition education into the curriculum, among others.
Mindfulness skills, said Joel Spoonheim, subject matter expert for Blue Zones, can greatly reduce incidences of violent behavior.
“You’re showing an attitude of possibility, which is what we’re looking for,” Spoonheim said.
Hellige said all principals, booster clubs, teachers and staff are on board, something the Blue Zones officials said wasn’t in place at the site visit this spring.
A possible challenge could be the new elementary school on the south side, Hellige said, and how the district will work to encourage children to walk home. Though kids won’t be able to walk home from the school, she said they could provide “drop zones” where students could be dropped off to then walk home.
In terms of city policy, Helfenberger said the city has been working with the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation daily to start projects that will benefit health and education within the community.
Out of Ottumwa’s top 10 employers, Lawyer said they have letters of support from all but two.
Indian Hills Community College, John Deere Ottumwa Works, the school district and Ottumwa Regional Health Center have all already taken steps toward healthier living, including a fitness facility on site at John Deere and a four-tier insurance program at ORHC, among others.
Ottumwa has a huge volunteer base, Ottumwa’s Blue Zones committee members said, from United Way of Wapello County to Job Corps to Cargill to the Silver Cord program at Ottumwa High School.
“This is about an institutional change that’s permanent,” Spoonheim said.
Blue Zones will announce in January which of the remaining communities will be named demonstration sites.