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Members of Spencer's "Blue Crew" celebrate the city's selection. (Spencer Daily Reporter)

Cedar Falls, Mason City, Spencer and Waterloo have been selected as the first Blue Zones Project demonstration site communities in Iowa.   The selected communities will receive assistance from national experts to develop and implement a blueprint for making permanent environmental, social and policy changes that transition people into healthier behaviors that can lead to longer, happier lives.

Hospital CEOs in the selected communities praised the efforts of citizens and said health care providers will continue to support Blue Zones.

“Allen has been planning its own Blue Zone initiative since January,” said Tom Tibbitts, CEO of Allen Health System in Waterloo. “We’ve also been enthusiastic advisors since last October to the people who worked so hard to win the bids.  Having both Cedar Falls and Waterloo as Blue Zones sites gives us tremendous opportunity to help our associates and two of our largest communities, at work and at home.”

“The Blue Zones project is a great opportunity to showcase how the two communities can work together to make improvements in the health and well-being of Cedar Valley residents,” stated Jack Dusenbery, CEO of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare-Iowa, which includes Sartori Memorial Hospital in Cedar Falls and Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo. “We look forward to learning more about Blue Zones, further developing community partnerships and ultimately achieving the goal of Iowa becoming a model for the nation as the healthiest state.”

“We are beyond excited that Mason City was named a demonstration site for the Blue Zones project,” said Rod Schlader, interim CEO at Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa. “Hospitals around the state need to become leaders in this effort.  Mercy-North Iowa looks forward to working side-by-side with its community partners to make our city a healthier and happier place for residents.”

Mason City residents supported Blue Zones during a walk last December. (Mason City Globe Gazette)

“We are excited to be a part of the community-wide, grassroots effort to make the Spencer area a healthier place to live and work,” said Spencer Hospital CEO Bill Bumgarner. “The enthusiasm is contagious and the commitment demonstrated by numerous hard-working community members will ensure success for our Blue Zones efforts.”

The Blue Zones Project is based on Blue Zones principles developed by author and explorer Dan Buettner and is the centerpiece of the Healthiest State Initiative to make Iowa the healthiest state by 2016 as measured by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.  Blue Zones employs evidence-based ways to help people live longer, better lives by taking a systematic, environmental approach to well-being, which focuses on optimizing policy, social networks and the built environments where people spend their time.

The progress of the demonstration site communities will also be measured using the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, the first-ever daily assessment of U.S. residents’ health and well-being.

“Recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index findings reveal that despite a modest increase in overall well-being from 2010 to 2011, there is significant opportunity in Iowa for improvement in several key areas, including healthy behaviors and work environments,” said Healthways President and CEO, Ben R.  Leedle, Jr.  “Selection as Blue Zones Project demonstration sites will equip Cedar Falls, Mason City, Spencer and Waterloo residents with tools to directly address each community’s specific areas of opportunity and achieve greater well-being, which should ultimately lead to lower health-related costs, increased productivity and higher economic viability.”

In the first application round last November, 84 communities indicated an interest in becoming Blue Zones Project demonstration sites.  Of these 84 communities, 58 were asked to submit a comprehensive application.  On January 4, 54 communities submitted their applications to continue their journey to become a demonstration site.  The selection of 11 finalist communities was announced on February 10, followed by Blue Zones Project team site visits to each of the finalist communities in February and March.

Six additional Iowa communities with populations above 10,000 will be selected as demonstration sites in the next year, for a total of 10 sites.  These communities will share their learnings with other communities in Iowa that are employing Blue Zones principles.

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