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Spencer Named Iowa's First Certified Blue Zones Community

City Successfully Implements Wide Range of Improvements to Achieve Higher Well-Being

November 20, 2013

SPENCER, Iowa – November 20, 2013 – Wellmark® Blue Cross® and Blue Shield®, Healthways (NASDAQ: HWAY) and Blue Zones, LLC, today announced that Spencer, Iowa has been named the state’s first certified Blue Zones Community®. Certification recognizes Spencer’s successful implementation of the Blue Zones Project®, a first-of-its-kind population health program that focuses on making long-lasting upgrades to the living environment. It brings the world's best practices in food policy, built environment, purpose and social networking to demonstration cities. 


Community leaders, volunteers and organizations throughout Spencer have been working to reach this milestone since May 2012 when the community was named one of the first Blue Zones Project demonstration sites in Iowa. As a result of their efforts, Spencer can celebrate the following outcomes:

  • The City of Spencer reports a more than 20 percent decrease in City workers' healthcare claims and that nearly half of City employees eliminated at least one of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, such as high blood pressure, high triglycerides and high glucose.
  • Created more community walkability by appropriating $200,000 to new sidewalk construction, leading to 200 citizen applications for new sidewalks and implementing policy requiring sidewalks for future construction.
  • Spencer Elementary Schools claim a 10% increase in the number of students walking or biking to school from the 2011-2012 school year to the 2012-2013 school year.
  • Increased the number of Community Gardens from one location with seven plots to three locations with 36 plots.

Since health behaviors are verifiably contagious, the Project also organized committed social networks call Moais, modeled off of an Okinawan ideal. Approximately 250 walking Moai group participants in Spencer have logged more than 136,000 walking minutes since the Project’s inception.


"Spencer's remarkable success further demonstrates that when communities work together to make evidence-based changes to their living environment both health and well-being improve," said Blue Zones Founder, Dan Buettner.


Spencer achieved Blue Zones Community status after making well-being improvements across the community, reaching the following key milestones in order to achieve this recognition:

  • 50% of the top 20 identified worksites became designated Blue Zones Worksites®
  • 25% of schools became designated Blue Zones Schools®
  • 25% of restaurants became designated Blue Zones Restaurants®
  • 25% of grocery stores became designated Blue Zones Grocery Stores®
  • 20% of citizens committed to the Blue Zones Project and completed at least one well-being improvement action
  • The community successfully completed the Blue Zones Community Policy™ bundle

“The Blue Zones Project has motivated me to make positive changes in my life," said Spencer resident Deb Muller. Muller is employed by Farmers Trust and Savings Bank and is one of many Spencer residents who lost a significant amount of weight as a result of taking part in Blue Zones Project activities and programs. "I initially chose one Power 9 principle and it has led me to implement others. I have lost 35 pounds and I have more energy. I have participated in several Moais and am more outgoing and less concerned about myself and more about others. My five daughters are eating healthier as well. Small changes are making a big impact!”


Among the other impressive economic and health gains the Project influenced:

  • City of Spencer claims that fulltime and volunteer firemen working with the Spencer Fire Department lost a combined total of 130 pounds, an average of 7.22 pounds each.
  • Spencer Hospital reports that insurance paid claims increased by only 1.4% between 2011 and 2012 compared to the national trend of 7% and their own average of 15% over the previous 5 years.
  • The Hospital also reports that their Spring 2013 wellness screening revealed that more than half of those screened eliminated one or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes compared to the previous year. Only 6% experienced an increase.
  • Spencer Municipal Utilities said that employees screened between 2012 and 2013 also experienced significant reductions in risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

"The Blue Zones Project has done so much to raise awareness about the importance of well-being throughout our town,” said Bob Fagen, Spencer's City Manager and Co-Chair of Spencer’s Blue Zones Project Power 9 Committee.  “Through the continued effort, I expect to see many positive outcomes when more data about the impact of the Project becomes available next year.”


“What Spencer has done to transform their community to make well-being a way of life is incredible,” said Wellmark Chairman and CEO John Forsyth. “This achievement required tremendous commitment and effort and we could not be more impressed by the visionary example Spencer has set for all communities in Iowa and across the country.” 


The Blue Zones Project is the centerpiece of the Healthiest State Initiative to make Iowa the healthiest state by 2016 as measured by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index®, the first-ever daily assessment of U.S. residents' health and well-being. Brought to Iowa through an innovative sponsorship by Wellmark in collaboration with Healthways and Blue Zones, the Blue Zones Project initiative encourages all Iowa communities to change their built environments to make the healthy choice, the easy choice. 


Fifteen Iowa communities are currently part of the Blue Zones Project and statewide outcomes to date. For more information please visit


“We are proud to recognize Spencer for their successful efforts to achieve Blue Zones Community certification,” said Ben R. Leedle, Jr., Healthways president and chief executive officer.  “Sustained well-being transformation depends on the establishment of a built environment and social policies that support and reinforce well-being improvement, both for the individual and the broader community. Through their actions, Spencer has fully demonstrated their commitment to improved well-being. The impact of the Blue Zones Project to date in the community is inspiring and we look forward to working with Spencer to continue facilitating their well-being transformation.”


About Wellmark

Wellmark, Inc. ( 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.


About Healthways

Healthways (NASDAQ: HWAY) is the largest independent global provider of well-being improvement solutions. Dedicated to creating a healthier world one person at a time, the Company uses the science of behavior change to produce and measure positive change in well-being for our customers, which include employers, integrated health systems, hospitals, physicians, health plans, communities and government entities.  We provide highly specific and personalized support for each individual and their team of experts to optimize each participant’s health and productivity and to reduce health-related costs.  Results are achieved by addressing longitudinal health risks and care needs of everyone in a given population. The Company has scaled its proprietary technology infrastructure and delivery capabilities developed over 30 years and now serves approximately 40 million people on four continents.  Learn more at


About Blue Zones

Blue Zones employs evidence-based ways to help people live longer, better. The Company's work is rooted in the New York Times best-selling books The Blue Zones and Thrive—both published by National Geographic books.  In 2009, Blue Zones applied the tenets of the books to Albert Lea, MN and successfully raised life expectancy and lowered health care costs for city workers by 40%.  Blue Zones takes a systematic, environmental approach to well-being which focuses on optimizing policy, building design, social networks, and the built environment. The Blue Zones Project is based on this innovative approach.  For more information, visit


Contact Wellmark Media Relations

Traci McBee
Phone: 515-376-4338


Teresa Roof
Phone: 515-376-5869


1331 Grand Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50309-2901

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