This month, the Airdrie community will be the first Canadian city to launch a health and wellness initiative called, “The Blue Zone Project.”
This movement has seen great success in many cities and municipalities in the United States, implementing ease of access to increased activity and healthy choices through collaboration with community members, schools, faith-based organizations, grocery stores and work sites by implementing changes to the environment, policies and social networking.
The concept originated in the early 2000’s, discovered by Dan Buettner, a well-known explorer and journalist.
Through research, he came upon five places in the entire world where people live the longest and healthiest lives, naming them “Blue Zones.”
After working with a team of medical researchers, demographers and epidemiologists, a list of attributes from the five Blue Zones was developed based on evidence of common denominators among all, which was named the “Power 9.”:
1. Move naturally
3. Down shift
4. Eighty per cent rule
5. Plant slant
6. Wine at five
8. Loved ones first
9. Right tribe
The goal of this concept is to weave these ideas into your everyday life.
Buettner and his team have worked in collaboration with governments, employers and health insurance providers to launch Blue Zones projects in cities, municipalities and workplaces across the United States from Florida to Hawaii.
Terri Merritt-Worden, vice president of operations for the Blue Zones Project and Share Care, says the project takes about three years in total to implement in its entirety, however some of the concepts are quite simple.
“Our world makes it really hard to make healthy choices with all the conveniences we’ve developed. This is about making the healthy choice the easy choice by doing things like putting more nutritious foods at eye level in the grocery stores, or developing Blue Zone check out lanes that offer fresh fruits and water versus candy and chips,” she said.
The project will begin with an eight-month foundation period, followed by a two-year implementation period. The first phase will be to develop a blueprint to map out the work to be done for the following two-year period.
“The focus is changing the environment in three main areas, people: by engaging community members as individuals, places: environmental like work sites, schools, grocery stores and restaurants and policy: by making the city more walkable or bikeable.” said Merritt-Worden. The policy component also includes access to nutritional food and tobacco.
Information is gathered through focus groups and one-on-one meetings with the community, as well as work sites that are of influence in the community and residents who commute.
After gathering information, a “steering committee,” is developed that represents the community and will develop a blueprint for work that needs to be done. Sector committees will also be identified and comprised of interested community volunteers who will develop an action plan based on the blueprint.
Experts from Canada and the United States will also be brought in to guide the policy areas of investigation.
Progress of the project will be measured in three ways:
- Based on people, places and policy, engaging at least 25 per cent of the population
- Improved productivity and reduced health care costs or decreased health benefit utilization.
Based on economic vitality and walkability
- A well-being survey which is taken at the baseline, then again at the end of the two-year period.
Airdrie is the 49th community and the only Canadian city to launch The Blue Zones Project but Merritt-Worden says the Airdrie project announcement has piqued some interest and they are thrilled to pursue the project here first.
“The announcement here in Airdrie has created great interest elsewhere. We are very excited about this partnership, because this is the first time we’ll be working with an area that has a single-payer health care system, which is a very different ball game than we have in the United States,” she said. “It’s really impressive that the city of Airdrie has stepped up to really create a community of health. That level of community engagement, for us, is a little unique. Because, usually, it’s a health care system or insurance company that we’re working closely with. This is a true partnership here with the city and with other organizations.”
---- April Bouchard
Our goal at Ladies Out Loud is to strive to support and align content for our readers and members to promote physical, mental and social health and well-being within the community. It is exciting to have had the opportunity to learn more about this unique initiative that is sure to have a positive impact on the Airdrie community in the short and long term.
The Blue Zones Project has seen great success in many cities similar in size to Airdrie. Particularly in Dodge County, Wisconsin. They are in their third year of implementation and have passed 78 city policies as it relates to biking and walking in the community. Farmer’s Markets connections have been created to provide greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables by vendors now accepting SNAPS, or food stamps, so lower income families can maximize their healthy food choices. Work sites have shown decreased utilization of health benefits, in turn costing companies less for premiums and some turnover rates have decreased as much as 50 per cent, which is below the average of the entire United States. Schools have implemented more activity into the children’s days, which they are calling, “Brain Breaks,” significantly improving behavior and attention rates among students.