FAQ

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Overview

  • What is the Blue Zones Project?

    Blue Zones Project® is a community-wide well-being improvement initiative designed to make healthy choices easier. We do this by encouraging sustainable changes in the built environment, building environments and social networks, often supporting locally-driven policy changes throughout a community including such places as worksites, schools, restaurants, grocery stores, faith based communities, convenience stores and neighborhoods. By helping people live longer and better through behavior change, communities can lower healthcare costs, improve productivity, access grants and funding available locally and nationally, and enjoy a higher quality of life as they live, work, learn, worship and grow.  The program is based on principles identified during an ongoing twenty-year worldwide longevity study commissioned by National Geographic, and detailed in the New York Times best-seller, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, and The Blue Zones Solution by Dan Buettner. 

  • Where did the concept of Blue Zones Project come from?

    The Blue Zones Project is based on research about the regions of the world with the highest concentrations of centenarians (people who live to be 100 years or older). There are five original blue zones regions: Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; and Ikaria, Greece. These areas share nine common traits that contribute to people’s longevity, called the Power 9®, and you can learn more about them in National Geographic Magazine and the New York Times best-selling books, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest and The Blue Zones Solution.

    Learn more by visiting our Origins page.

  • What are the goals of Blue Zones Project?

    The Project seeks to improve the overall well-being of an entire community’s residents. Well-being is a measure of a person’s overall physical, social, and emotional health. Higher well-being leads to lower healthcare costs, higher productivity and increased economic vitality, and offers benefits for everybody.

    Outcome goals include:

    • Improving well-being, as measured by the Community Well-Being Index
    • Generating significant medical cost savings and productivity improvement
    • Lowering the obesity rate
    • Lowering smoking rates
    • Increasing produce consumption
    • Improving access to healthy foods
    • Increasing daily physical activity levels
    • Drive significant media attention to your community
    • Hire and train community coalitions to lead and sustain this work
    • Leverage this inclusive and systematic approach to secure grants, gifts, and funding for communities
  • How does the Blue Zones Project approach differ from other health initiatives?

    Many traditional health initiatives offer mainly diet and exercise programs that are right-minded, but rarely sustainable over time. Additionally, they are often narrowly focused on physical health and are often put into practice without consideration for existing community engagement programs. Blue Zones Project looks to knock down siloed efforts through an inclusive and comprehensive approach to population health. The Project focuses instead on comprehensively changing a community’s environments so that healthy choices are easier for individuals to make. The Blue Zones Project is unique because it takes a systematic environmental approach to improving well-being through policy, programs, building design, social networks, and the built environment. 

    Learn more about our Approach here.

  • Is the Blue Zones Project meant to replace existing programs or efforts?

    No. Blue Zones Project's work is focused on collaboration and leveraging what is already working well within a community, and building and igniting momentum and community engagement. The Project looks to broaden and accelerate current efforts. When the Blue Zones Project team begins its collaborative work in a community, the first several months include meetings with stakeholder groups to better understand efforts already underway. It is understandable that when a new approach is introduced it can trigger concerns. Typically, existing programs that do similar work see their efforts visibility enhanced. Leaders and organizations already doing similar work typically sit on Blue Zones Project committees and help lead these efforts, and build their brand recognition.

  • What does community transformation look like?

    Blue Zones Project utilizes many strategies for improving well-being although not all will be necessary or applicable in every community. Strategies will be chosen based on the Blue Zones Project team’s community assessment in collaboration with community leaders and the Blueprint planning done by a core leadership team made up of citizens and leaders from the community.

    Employers (public, private, and not-for-profit) are offered no-cost tools and consulting to improve employee productivity and well-being. Individuals will have access to free tools that will help them create healthier surroundings for themselves, their families and the community. These include checklists for setting up a home to improve well-being, an online quiz to project longevity and a coaching tool to improve your well being, and workshops to deepen a sense of purpose, make new friends, and explore healthier eating. Civic leaders play a key role by adopting and implementing best practices in policies and programs to improve the built environment, food environment, and smoke-free environment. Restaurants, schools, grocery stores, faith-based communities and other organizations can participate by making changes that will create healthier environments for customers, students, members and residents. Local media outlets help spread the word about Blue Zones Project and encourage participation. We see upwards of 80% of residents in communities we work in aware of the project and 45% plus participating.

    Some of the typical implementations a community can expect:

    • Walking school buses that provide students with at least a mile of walking each day
    • Partnerships with local grocery stores and convenience stores to promote healthy foods
    • Planning for walking and biking paths that promote human-powered transportation
    • Establishment of walking, healthy eating and purpose groups that encourage social engagement
    • Helping local restaurants enhance menus to include more appealing, healthier choices that can also help them grow their customer base and revenue
    • Targeted solutions for harder to reach populations
    • Creation of healthier worksites making healthier choices easier for colleagues
    • Adding healthy foods and increasing physical activity in schools
  • How does Blue Zones Project work as a community-led initiative?

    Full-time teams, hired locally, are trained/certified as specialists by the Blue Zones Project central team to lead the day-to-day execution of a unique Community Blueprint. A local Steering Committee will guide the formation of Blue Zones Project. In addition, a Community Blueprint Advisory Committee—including community leaders and volunteers across all sectors and supported by Blue Zones Project team members—will work to develop a community’s custom Blueprint for Blue Zones Project. That Blueprint, approved by the Steering Committee, is a strategic and tactical action plan that will guide the community as it works to achieve Blue Zones Community® certification.

    To launch the Project, a Foundation Period allows residents to provide input on the direction of the Blue Zones Project Blueprint through focus groups, workshops and priority-setting sessions. Following the Foundation Period, local Blue Zones Implementation Committees will begin to execute the Blueprint across six engagement sectors with the help of community leaders, volunteers and the Blue Zones Project team over three-five years*. 

    *Project scope varies by community.

     

  • How does Blue Zones Project address the needs of diverse populations?

    Diversity and inclusion is a key component of Blue Zones Project. Because Blue Zones Project focuses on semi-permanent and permanent change to communities’ infrastructure and policies, it focuses on making healthy choices easier for all. Informed by community input and driven by a local Steering Committee, the community defines the specific focus areas and scope. Priorities brought forth by the community will be driven through policy change that affects diverse populations the most.

     

    The Project efforts are tailored to address the needs of each individual community and reach all segments of the population. Of course, Blue Zones Project, or any one initiative, cannot do that alone. Blue Zones Project works closely with local leaders and other community organizations to ensure that we are reaching every segment of the population. We work together to select objectives and strategies that will address areas of greatest need and potential impact to improve health and well-being. This could mean built environment strategies that improve neighborhood safety and walkability, or access to parks and green space. It could also mean improving access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables at local corner stores or through mobile markets. To truly impact the health of a community, we must collectively address the complex and diverse issues that face all of its members.

     

    For example, in Fort Worth, the community has focused on addressing a food desert in the Stop Six neighborhood as part of broad revitalization initiative. Blue Zones Project supported collaboration between Fort Worth Independent School District, the city, the county, a non-profit, neighborhoods, police, and many others. In December 2017, using Blue Zones Project programming and focused volunteer efforts, Ramey Market held a grand re-opening as the first healthy corner store in Fort Worth. Blue Zones Project support included:

    • Engaged local high school art students to create new mural for the building’s exterior that included produce

    • Eliminated in-store tobacco signage

    • Added produce stand and healthy grab-and-go cooler near register

    • Added signage throughout store promoting healthy food choices and large produce merchandiser is set close to store entrance

    • Added healthy options to the store’s freezer section

    • Healthy recipe cards are available for customers

    • “They (local teens who stop in the store after school) started changing habits. They’d start by picking up candies, they’d debate with themselves, and put it back and get fruits – especially, they like to get fruits.” – Sam Moulegiet, Owner

  • Are community members and organizations forced to participate?

    Blue Zones Project is a series of improvement initiatives that communities choose from to help turn the tide of chronic disease and poor health. The work of the Project isn’t a mandate; it’s a resource system that works to create and sustain environments where healthy eating and active living are accessible to everyone. The problem is dire: The National Institutes of Health reports that more than two in three U.S. adults are overweight or obese. (Obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers are some of the top causes of preventable death.)

    Blue Zones Project partners with communities and individuals to reverse that trend, by making healthy choices easier. And choice is the operative word: every restaurant, grocer, school, employer, and individual choosing to participate in this initiative is given a list of evidence-based practices, gleaned from areas of the world where people live longer lives with less chronic disease. These principles and environmental changes are all optional and are designed to enhance longevity. When enough of these practices are implemented, healthy choices become easier to make in a community. On an individual level, people can join the Blue Zones Project movement by deciding which of the best practices are the best fit for them or for their families and attend a variety of free events hosted across the community.

    We understand that there are cases where people may not be open to change, however, our goal is to set up environments that allow the healthy choice to be the easy choice for the people in our communities. Blue Zones Project is about creating options, accessibility, and inclusion, not about limiting choice.

  • How is Blue Zones Project funded?

    Blue Zones Project is a well-being initiative that is brought to each community through the support of forward-thinking community sponsors. The value is improved well-being through healthier choices offered where people live, work, and play such as worksites, schools, grocery stores and restaurants. Because sponsors fund the project, there is no cost to individual citizens, organizations or the city. Projects are generally three to five years and are funded by multiple sponsors contributing to yearly investments in their community’s health.

    Blue Zones Project has a unique relationship with each community, and funding models vary from state to state and community to community. From public funders, like Beach Cities Health District, to public-private partnerships, Blue Zones Project sponsors are making an investment in community and individual well-being.

 

Community Site Assessment

  • What does a community site assessment include?

    The site assessment includes research into a community’s institutions, economy, and initiatives underway as well as the major health issues facing the community. The Blue Zones Project team will review existing assessments and plans to gather this information, including but not limited to community health needs assessments, community health improvement plans, city planning documents, economic development plans, and reports from the chambers of commerce or business improvement districts. The community research and planning period is followed by an onsite visit featuring a community presentation to the Blue Zones Project team, value presentation, one-on-one meetings, and broad-based focus groups. The kick-off presentation will give key stakeholders in the community an overview of Blue Zones Project and what it means to become a Blue Zones Community. This will be followed by a series of intensive focus group meetings with stakeholders from various sectors including government, worksites, schools, grocery stores, restaurants, faith-based groups, media, non-profits and civic organizations. The focus groups provide an opportunity to gauge the community’s interest in Blue Zones Project, learn about current efforts to improve well-being in the community, identify community leaders and influencers, and capture strengths and areas for improvement. A value presentation will look at the current state of well-being in the community and use science to share the cost of doing nothing and what we believe the ROI of a Blue Zones Project in your region will be. One-on-one meetings will gauge leadership and potential sponsorship interest.

  • How can individuals and organizations get involved in a site assessment?

    Individuals and organizations can get more involved by participating in the focus groups and attending presentations. The goal of these site assessments is to gauge community interest and readiness to partner and lead this initiative.  Individual participation is critical so we can learn more about each community and hear a diverse group of thoughts about its strengths and opportunities for improving well-being for all of its citizens.

  • What happens after the community site assessment?

    After a site assessment concludes, Blue Zones Project will produce a report that summarizes the state of well-being, and opportunities and challenges that the community faces in the various sectors. Thirty days later, the Blue Zones Project team will deliver a detailed proposal for potential sponsors and funders and present to the community. At this point, the sponsors and potential funders will have 30-45 days to secure funding and commit to a Blue Zones Project. These intensive and sustained community transformations range from 3-5 years and usually start 30-60 days after contracting. At this point, a Blue Zones Project transformation will launch with the hiring of a local staff team to support the Project implementation from the community. Additionally, local community leaders will be trained and seated on committees that will guide the Project in concert with Blue Zones Project employees, our central team, and well-being experts.

 

Results

  • How is Blue Zones Project success defined and measured?

    Blue Zones Project uses the Community Well-Being Index (CWBI) to measure community well-being and social determinants of health at various intervals throughout the project to measure change over time. In addition to this, Blue Zones Project will track a variety of metrics that are selected by the community to measure and outlined in the Blueprint. Tracking is done by working with our partners, including local organizations, to measure the outcomes of our efforts.

    Additionally, community-specific metrics will be selected to track over the course of the Project to provide additional insight into the impact of the Project. Community leadership will be responsible for identifying and tracking community-wide metrics from available data sources over the course of the Project to provide insight into the impact of the Project.

    For more information, please visit our Measurement page.

  • How is the Community Well-Being Index used?

    The Community Well-Being Index, one of our primary tools for tracking progress, will measure the effectiveness of Blue Zones Project in a community. The index uses a holistic definition of well-being and self-reported survey data from individuals to capture important aspects of how people feel about and experience their daily lives, extending well beyond conventional measures of physical health or economic indicators. The index is the most proven, mature and comprehensive measure of well-being in the world, measuring five prominent elements:

    • Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
    • Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life
    • Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
    • Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community
    • Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

    The initial measurement would be administered in the first year of the project to create a baseline score for the community overall and for each area of well-being. Follow-up measurements will be conducted to continue to measure the well-being impact of Blue Zones Project in the community.

  • What have been the results in other communities?

    Blue Zones Project makes healthy choices easier. Since 2010, Blue Zones Project has partnered with 51 communities across North America and created sustainable changes to environment, policy, and social networks. As communities roll out the initiative and adopt best practices from the world’s original blue zones areas, they become more walkable, livable places that support an active, engaged lifestyle.

    Impact is measured by the Community Well-Being Index, community, policy, organizational outcomes, individual transformation, and media reach.

    Example 1:

    California’s Beach Cities (Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Manhattan Beach) achieved certification as an official Blue Zones Community in 2016. Since implementing Blue Zones Project in 2010, the CWI has shown:

    • The number of overweight citizens dropped nine points to 50.8 percent, while the national rate rose four points to 63.7 percent in 2015. The number of obese residents came in at less than half the national average, at 12.1 percent compared with 28.1 percent nationally.
    • Smoking declined more than 17 percent, bringing the percentage of smokers in the Beach Cities to 8.9 percent, compared with 18.8 percent nationally.
    • Daily significant stress dropped by nearly 10 percent.

     

    Example 2:

    Albert Lea, Minnesota, the original pilot community, has risen significantly in Minnesota’s county health rankings and strengthened its economy through Blue Zones Project. Since implementing a second phase of Blue Zones Project efforts in 2015, Albert Lea has made gains in critical areas of well-being, outpacing the state and nation.

    • Overall well-being is up 2.8 points, and is outpacing improvement across the state of Minnesota during the same time.
    • Smoking dropped 35 percent and now is less than 15 percent, far below the national average of 18.5 percent in 2015. This resulted in a projected $8.6 million in healthcare cost savings for Albert Lea employers.
    • Percentage of residents who consume recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables rose to 62 percent, also well above the national average of 57.5 percent in 2015.
    • Community pride increased significantly, up seven points to 68.7 percent.
    • Obesity rate dropped 1 percent in 2017, while rates in both the state and nation increased by 1 percent.
    • 96 percent increase in pedestrian traffic from 2014 to 2018.

    In addition to well-being improvements, Albert Lea has experienced the economic impact of implementing Blue Zones Project.

    • More than $2.5 million invested in downtown area since 2013.
    • 25 percent increase in property values in downtown area, adding $1 million to tax base.
    • 48 percent increase in tourism since 2012.
    • 11 percent decrease in prescription costs for school district
    • 300 percent increase in funds given to the City of Albert Lea by its insurance carrier for city’s wellness program

     

    Example 3:
    Despite a negative tide in the nation, well-being in Southwest Florida continues to improve. Every element of the Well-Being Index remains strong, relative to Florida and the Nation. In fact, the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island MSA claimed the top spot in Gallup’s Community Rankings for the third year in a row. Thanks to the success of Blue Zones Project, the Southwest Florida project area has expanded to include seven communities. According to the Well-Being Index, between 2015 and 2017 in Southwest Florida:

    • Daily stress has dropped by 10 percent.
    • More than half of residents eat five or more servings of produce four or more days per week, up 4.7 percent.
    • The smoking rate is low, at just over 9 percent.
    • The number of residents who exercise at least 30 minutes three days per week is up 4.3 percent.
    • 9 percent of residents say their friends and family give them positive energy every day, up five points.
    • More than half of residents are thriving.

     

    Example 4:

    Well-being has reached a new high in Fort Worth, according to the annual Well-Being Index. Fort Worth's overall 2018 Well-Being Index score rose to 62.5, a gain of nearly four points since 2014, when the city began working with Blue Zones Project. Meanwhile the U.S. Well-Being Index score—which outpaced the Fort Worth score by 3 points in 2014—is 61.3, a decline of 0.5 over the same period.

    Fort Worth ranked 185th out of 189 cities on the Gallup Community Rankings. Four years after launching Blue Zones Project, the city improved their ranking to 58th and has become the largest Blue Zones Community® in the US. Well-being fared better in Fort Worth than the US in all five of the well-being elements- purpose, social, financial, community, and physical.

    • Net 3.7-point increase in overall well-being between 2014 and 2018
    • 31 percent reduction in tobacco use from 2014 to 2018
    • 9-point increase in exercise from 2014 to 2018
    • 3-point increase in residents who are “thriving” from 2014-2018
    • 7-point increase in those who feel Fort Worth is the perfect place for them

     

    See more of our outcomes on our Results page.

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