Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids finalists for Blue Zones - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids finalists for Blue Zones Project

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Organizers of the Blue Zones Project have selected eleven Iowa communities as finalists to become one of ten demonstration sites.

The finalist communities are:

Ames, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Davenport, Mason City, Muscatine, Ottumwa, Sioux City, Spencer, and Waterloo.

Wellmark/Blue Cross Blue Shield/Healthways administrators will begin site tours of the communities in March.  Each of the communities will go through the process, much like a job interview, and learn what it will take to become a Blue Zone Community. Being chosen as a Blue Zone community means gaining access to funding and expertise to work at making the community healthier.

Cedar Falls and Waterloo are hoping help from residents and the business community will push the Cedar Valley to the top of the pack.

"I think everybody's thrilled that we've been chosen. I think that shows a lot for what we've done over the last couple months, and where we want to go," said Suzy Schares, Waterloo City Clerk and one of the primary organizers for the city.

Teams from Cedar Falls and Waterloo are excited to hear their efforts to be "blue" are paying off.

"We keep getting picked along the way, but we don't get any feedback on why! So it's really hard to gauge what our chances are," said Dr. Michelle Clark, an organizer from Waterloo.

Initially, the two communities hoped to apply as one, so the fact that both are moving forward is encouraging.

"Well, if you look at it the way I would, we have a trail system that's extensive, one of the best in the United States and definitely the best in Iowa. And it doesn't stop when you get to the Cedar Falls or Waterloo border. And nothing in our cities do. The roads flow through, everything's together as a community. I hope they look at it the same way we do," said HyVee Store Direct Jeff Suchomel.

Ultimately, the Blue Zones Project Team is looking for a community where everyone is ready to make real change. That includes local businesses. Hy-Vee signed on right away as a partner in the initiative.

"All of our stores have dieticians, we're constantly updating our produce department," said Suchomel.

Iowa is the second state to implement the Blue Zone Project, Minnesota was the first. Iowa's Blue Zone Communities will be modeled after the most successful in Minnesota -- Albert Lea. In 2009, a 10-month pilot project in Albert Lea saw residents increase their projected life expectancy by 2.9 years. Employers also reported a drop in healthcare claims cost and in absenteeism.

"If it is a healthy environment, you can save money, that's good for the bottom line, good for the employee and good for the employer. It's really a win-win," said Cedar Falls Mayor Jon Crews.

Even if neither Cedar Valley community is chosen, Clark believes, as Iowans, we're still coming out ahead.

"It's already made a huge impact in our community. And whether Waterloo is chosen or not, it's still going to be a resource available to us," said Clark.

Communities that were not chosen during this round are still in the running.  In March, organizers will announce the smaller towns they've chosen as finalists.  Then, sometime in early summer, the Blue Zones Institute will decide which three communities they will initially launch the program in.  In all, ten communities will become "Blue Zones" in Iowa.

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