Waterloo and Cedar Falls chosen as Blue Zones communities - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Waterloo and Cedar Falls chosen as Blue Zones communities


Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Mason City and Spencer have been selected as demonstration communities for the Blue Zones Project.

"I don't know that either one of us though we would both get it," said Waterloo Mayor Buck Clark.

"I am surprised they picked both cities," agreed Cedar Falls Mayor Jon Crews.

Waterloo and Cedar Falls are officially "Blue".

"Now the hard work begins," said Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber President Bob Justis.

The "Blue Zones Project" promised $25 million in total funding to the ten chosen communities. But...

"They're not sending us a check. They're sending resources and people here to work with local people to take best practices and try to affect the health of the community," said Crews.

Affecting the health of the community includes how families spend their down time, as well as what happens in the course of a workday.

"That's going to require the compliance of a lot of businesses. But speaking on behalf of those businesses -- we've got about 900 of them that belong to our organization -- I think I can speak for them that they're on board," said Justis.

You'll notice the changes at the grocery store -- with healthier options waiting at the checkout line.

Dining out? The menu you're looking at may start with fresh veggies instead of french fries.

"The program supports you going out to dine and supports your local communities. But it also helps engage the restaurants to have healthier choices available and make it easier to make the right choice and make it the natural, enjoyable choice," said Dr. Michelle Clark, one of the Waterloo Blue Zones organizers.

Since the line between Cedar Falls and Waterloo is a fuzzy one, many of the changes will impact both communities. But each city will have its own team of experts, and its own plan for a healthier future.

"I think we're going to have some very spirited, but very friendly competition to see who can make the best out of this program," said Clark.

Ultimately, both communities are coming out on top.

"Cuts health insurance costs, workers are more productive, they show up more, there's less sick leave. All that stuff is a win-win for everybody," said Crews.

Four of the winning cities were announced on Friday at an event in Des Moines. The remaining six winners will be announced at a later date. Cities still in the running for the remaining six spots include Ames, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Davenport, Muscatine, Ottumwa, and Sioux City. 

Wellmark/Blue Cross Blue Shield/Healthways administrators conducted site tours of the communities in March. Each of the communities went through a process, much like a job interview, to explain why they are good candidates for the project. Being chosen as a Blue Zones community means gaining access to funding and expertise to work at making the community healthier.

Iowa is the second state to implement the Blue Zones 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.

Gov. Terry Branstad announced the project last year as part of the Iowa's Healthiest State Initiative, a project with the goal of making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.

Blue Zones has also expanded the project to include smaller communities. Finalists for this designation include Algona, Audubon, Decorah, Fairfield, Harlan, Osage, Red Oak, Spirit Lake, St. Ansgar, and Woodbine. The site visits for the smaller communities will happen during the summer of 2012.


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