DES MOINES, Iowa and NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Wellmark® Blue Cross® and Blue Shield® CEO John Forsyth and Healthways (NASDAQ: HWAY) president and CEO Ben R. Leedle, Jr. today joined with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Blue Zones® founder Dan Buettner to introduce the Blue Zones Project™, a centerpiece of the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative to improve the well-being of all Iowans through tools and programs for employers, leaders and residents statewide.
“The Blue Zones Project is a community by community, business by business movement that will help Iowa communities make a lasting difference in their health and well-being,” says Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. “By making changes to our environment and social networks, Iowans can not only live longer, we can also live better.”
Blue Zones, LLC uses third party research and direct studies, to identify the world’s best practices in longevity and well-being. Working in collaboration with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, it uses this research to develop lifestyle management tools. In 2009, Blue Zones led a 10-month pilot project in Albert Lea, Minnesota, where residents increased their projected life expectancy by 2.9 years. In addition, employers in that city reported a decline in healthcare claims cost and a drop in absenteeism.
Starting today, all Iowa communities can take the first step to becoming Blue Zones Communities. Ten communities that demonstrate the greatest passion, interest and ability to bring their community together will receive assistance from national experts to develop and implement a blueprint for making permanent environment, policy and social network changes that transition people into healthier behaviors. These communities will become demonstration sites and share their learnings with other communities in Iowa who are employing Blue Zones principles. Businesses will also take the lead by transforming their worksites, followed by government, schools and non-profit organizations.
“We know from our research that, if we truly want to improve our health, we have to start with our lifestyles and environment,” says Wellmark Chairman and CEO John Forsyth. “Wellmark is proud to help Iowa communities jump start their transformation to be Blue Zones Communities, and we hope every Iowa community takes advantage of this unique opportunity.”
Interested communities may sign up and review application steps at www.bluezonesproject.com. On September 27, Wellmark, Healthways and Blue Zones representatives will host an informational webinar describing in detail the opportunities and criteria for selection. Communities must submit a Statement of Interest no later than October 28. From these responses, some communities will be asked to submit a formal, detailed application. This process will culminate with the selection of the first group of lead communities in the spring of 2012.
Key dates in the application process:
- September 27, 2011 – Informational webinar
- October 10-13, 2011 – Blue Zones Project road shows
- October 28, 2011 – Statement of Interest due
- January 4, 2012 – Application due
- February, 2012 – Finalists selected and notified, site visits scheduled
- May, 2012 – First round of communities selected
The progress of the communities will be measured using the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index®, the first-ever daily assessment of U.S. residents' health and well-being. “The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index data reveals there is significant opportunity in Iowa for improvement, particularly among healthy behaviors and work environments,” said Leedle. “The Blue Zones Project will help employers and communities achieve greater well-being, which should lead to lower healthcare costs, higher productivity and increased economic viability.”
The Blue Zones Project in Iowa is funded by Wellmark and encompasses a broad array of tools and services for all Iowa communities:
- A statewide employer initiative to enable businesses to improve the well-being of their workforce on the way to becoming Certified Blue Zones Employers™;
- A Blue Zones Institute™ to provide leadership training and tools to help community and business leaders transform their environment, policies and social networks using a self-directed approach to becoming a Blue Zones Community or Employer;
- An online learning collaborative to learn how communities have implemented Blue Zones principles; and
- A suite of online tools and services available to all Iowans to improve their well-being.
The Blue Zones Project is based upon findings from an eight-year worldwide longevity study to identify common elements of the world’s longest-lived cultures. Blue Zones Founder and National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner is the author of the New York Times bestselling book titled “The Blue Zones – Lessons For Living Longer, from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest”. The Blue Zones findings have garnered national media attention including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper 360 and ABC Nightly News. In late 2010, Blue Zones and Healthways partnered with the Beach Cities Health District in Southern California to apply Blue Zones principles to three contiguous California communities, and now the Blue Zones movement has spread to Iowa.
According to Buettner, “The longest-lived people don’t run marathons or pump iron. They live in environments that nudge them into more physical movement, where it is easy to walk to the store, to their friend's house or their place of worship. They eat healthy meals in moderation and interact with healthy-minded, supportive friends. To achieve lasting transformation, we must help Iowans make the healthy choices the easy choices.”
An important selection criterion is citizen support, and Iowa residents can support their hometown by pledging to participate in the Blue Zones Project if their community is chosen. Pledges can be completed by signing up at www.bluezonesproject.com or by texting “BZP” to 772937.
Wellmark, Inc. (www.wellmark.com) does business as Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa. Wellmark and its subsidiaries and affiliated companies, including Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of South Dakota and Wellmark Health Plan of Iowa, Inc., insure or pay health benefit claims for more than 2 million members in Iowa and South Dakota. Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of South Dakota, and Wellmark Health Plan of Iowa, Inc. are independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
Healthways is the leading provider of specialized, comprehensive solutions to help millions of people maintain or improve their health and well-being and, as a result, reduce overall costs. Healthways’ solutions are designed to keep healthy people healthy, reduce health-related risks and optimize care for those with chronic illness. Our proven, evidence-based programs provide highly specific and personalized interventions for each individual in a population, irrespective of age or health status, and are delivered to consumers by phone, mail, internet and face-to-face interactions, both domestically and internationally. Healthways also provides a national, fully accredited complementary and alternative Health Provider Network, offering convenient access to individuals who seek health services outside of, and in conjunction with, the traditional healthcare system. For more information, please visit www.healthways.com.