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June 15, 2015

HARLAN, Iowa — Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Healthways, Inc. (NASDAQ: HWAY), and Blue Zones, LLC, today announced that Harlan, Iowa, has been named a certified Blue Zones Community®. Certification recognizes Harlan’s community transformation through successful implementation of the Blue Zones Project®, a first-of-its-kind population health program that brings the world's best practices in food policy, built environment, purpose and social networking to participating cities. 

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 optimize their surroundings to make the healthy choice the easy choice. The Blue Zones Project is the centerpiece of Iowa’s Healthiest State InitiativeSM, a privately led, publicly endorsed initiative intended to inspire Iowans and their communities throughout the state to improve their well-being.

Community leaders, volunteers and organizations throughout Harlan have been working to achieve certification status since October 2012, when the community was named a Blue Zones Project demonstration site. As a result of its efforts, Harlan can celebrate the following outcomes:

  • The city made a $350,000 investment in expanding the Pioneer Park 1.2 mile walking trail to include 10-foot wide sidewalks. New lighting also enhances safety and encourages extended use at dawn and dusk.
  • Harlan Community School District now offers biometric screening opportunities three times per year and a health risk assessment. More than 98 percent of participants have indicated they will continue to participate in the wellness program.
  • Members of the Peterson Wellness Center and the Harlan Community School District completed more than 700 Blue Zones Personal Pledges during a friendly competition.
  • Employees at Elm Crest Retirement Community logged 500 volunteer hours in 2014.
  • Hy-Vee produce sales increased 5 percent each year over the past three years and shelf space for fresh-cut produce has tripled in size.
  • The elementary school garden has grown fivefold in size during the past year, and the school district’s tobacco policy now prohibits all types of tobacco products.
  • Sandwich Bowl restaurant now offers carrots or an apple as a side, resulting in the use of more than 12 pounds of baby carrots each week. About 15 percent of sandwiches are now ordered with either carrots or apples instead of the regular side of chips.

“Our community’s recent announcement as becoming a certified Blue Zones Community is what I see as another notch, and a significant notch, in our continued quest to be known as a community with a great quality of life, and this will help us further that,” said Harlan Mayor Gene Gettys. “This is a time for us to rejoice, but also a time to challenge ourselves to continue to move forward in improving our quality of life.”

“Leaders and volunteers in Harlan have embraced the Blue Zones model and worked together toward this common goal for more than two years,” said Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner. “We applaud their efforts and look forward to the continued focus on well-being improvement.”

Harlan achieved Blue Zones Community status after reaching the following key milestones, all of which are required improvement goals for Blue Zones Project demonstration communities to receive certification:

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

“We are very proud of the Harlan community for their effort and commitment to make well-being a way of life,” said Laura Jackson, Wellmark executive vice president. “It is very exciting to see a community the size of Harlan achieve Blue Zones Community status and for setting a great example for other Iowa communities.”

“Harlan has demonstrated its dedication to improved well-being and has earned Blue Zones Community certification,” said Katrina Worlund, Healthways senior vice president, Blue Zones Project. “This community has seen early progress, and we look forward to their continued progress.” 

Harlan is planning a celebration later this summer to recognize the efforts of the entire community in becoming a certified Blue Zones Community.

Fifteen Iowa communities are currently part of the Blue Zones Project and are positively influencing statewide outcomes to date, as measured by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index®. For more information, please visit www.bluezonesproject.comExternal Site.