Skip to main content
February 24, 2016

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa —  Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Healthways, Inc., and Blue Zones, LLC today announced that Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is well on its way to well-being, as the city celebrates becoming a certified Blue Zones Community®. Certification recognizes Cedar Rapids’ community transformation through successful implementation of 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. 

The public is invited to celebrate this accomplishment and recognize the efforts of the entire community during a Blue Zones Community Certification Celebration on Tuesday, March 8, from 4 – 7 p.m. at the Helen G. Nassif YMCA.

Brought to Iowa through an innovative sponsorship by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, in collaboration with Healthways, Inc., and Blue Zones LLC, Blue Zones Project encourages all Iowa communities to optimize their surroundings to make the healthy choice the easy choice. 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.

“We are honored to be recognized as a certified Blue Zones Community,” said Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. “As the largest community in Iowa to undertake this Project, we are proud of the broad-based and comprehensive progress we’ve made toward healthy living as a way of life. We continue to rebuild and reimagine our city for the future with a focus on our citizens and a strong quality of life.”

Community leaders, volunteers and organizations throughout Cedar Rapids have been working to achieve certification status since January 2013. Certification was achieved by meeting the following Blue Zones Project requirements:

  • 50 percent of the top 20 identified worksites became designated Blue Zones Worksites®. A total of 56 worksites have been named Blue Zones Worksites, with 16 of those in the top 20.
  • 25 percent of schools became designated Blue Zones Schools®. A total of 16 schools achieved designation.
  • 25 percent of restaurants became designated Blue Zones Restaurants®. A total of 36 restaurants earned the recognition.
  • 25 percent of grocery stores became designated Blue Zones Grocery Stores®. A total of four grocery stores were named Blue Zone Grocery Stores.
  • 20 percent of citizens have committed to Blue Zones Project and completed at least one well-being improvement action. Nearly 22,000 Cedar Rapids citizens have taken the Blue Zones Personal Pledge and taken action to improve their well-being.
  • The community has successfully completed the Blue Zones Community Policy® bundle.

“Cedar Rapids put a strong emphasis on well-being improvement through key environmental levers,” said Dan Buettner, Blue Zones founder and National Geographic Fellow. “This community — the largest we’ve worked with in Iowa — is setting an example for surrounding communities in Iowa and cities around the nation. I applaud them for this impressive achievement.”

As a result of its efforts, Cedar Rapids can celebrate the following outcomes:
  • Cedar Rapids implemented Iowa’s first protected green bike lane and trail mileage has increased 28 percent from 25 miles in 2009 to 32 miles in 2015.
  • Residents passed a 10-year local-option sales tax which is projected to generate $180 million for streets projects, all guided by the recently passed complete streets policy and design standards.
  • Concrete Connections brought together 46 local organizations to paint two-miles of sidewalks, encouraging residents to explore the street on foot or bicycle.
  • 18 schools planted gardens that incorporate nutrition education into the curriculum while 12 schools began a Walking School Bus program, allowing more than 700 students to move naturally on their way to school.
  • Blue Zones Worksites saw positive improvements in health outcomes and claims, including:
    • Toyota Financial Services increased the number of employees exercising 30 minutes per day by 18.9 percent while the number who reported no exercise decreased by 42.5 percent.
    • Midwest Metal Products experienced a drop in paid medical claims from $7,348 to $5,207 per covered member.
    • Grant Wood AEA instituted a tobacco policy and saw a 10 percent decrease in tobacco use.
  • In the past two years, more than 25 worksites have become tobacco-free or nicotine-free campuses.
  • 36 locally owned restaurants became Blue Zones Restaurants, with many seeing improvements in sales of healthy items including:
    • Fresh fruit and vegetable sales at Coffeesmiths increased 11 percent in the past year.
    • Sales of the three-seed hummus sandwich at Great Harvest Bread Co. increased 1,600 percent.
  • Sales of healthy Blue Zones Foods tracked at Hy-Vee Edgewood Road, a Blue Zones Grocery Store, increased 43 percent from 2014 to 2015.
  • Citizens embraced Blue Zones Project with 1,160 people attending one of 65 Blue Zones Project plant-based cooking classes, 1,500 people joining a Walking Moai and 700 people attending a Purpose Workshop. Nearly 22,000 citizens completed the Blue Zones Project Personal Pledge and completed a healthy action to improve well-being — the most of any community in Iowa.

“Cedar Rapids has demonstrated its dedication and commitment to make well-being a way of life,” said Laura Jackson, Wellmark executive vice president. “We commend the community for working together to achieve Blue Zones Community status and serving as an example for other Iowa communities.”

“We know that communities with greater well-being have lower health care costs, higher productivity, and are recognized among the best places to live, work, and play,” said Katrina Worlund, Healthways senior vice president, Blue Zones Project. “Cedar Rapids has impressed us with its dedication to the health of its residents and focus on forward-thinking policies. We look forward to their continued work and focus on well-being improvement in the community.”

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

About Wellmark 

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. Blue Cross®, Blue Shield® and the Cross® and Shield® symbols are registered trademarks of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, an Association of Independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans. Wellmark® is a registered trademark of Wellmark, Inc.

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 Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People, The Blue Zones and Thrive—all published by National Geographic books.  Since 2009, Blue Zones has applied the tenets of the books to communities and corporations across the U.S. and has successfully raised life expectancy and lowered health care costs while bringing down smoking and obesity rates.  Blue Zones takes a systematic, environmental approach to well-being, which focuses on optimizing policy, building design, social networks, and the built environment. Blue Zones Project is based on this innovative approach.  For more information, visit www.bluezones.comExternal Site.  Blue Zones Project®, Blue Zones Community®, Blue Zones Worksites®, Blue Zones Schools®, Blue Zones Restaurants®, Blue Zones Grocery Stores®, Blue Zones Community Policy® and Moai® are trademarks of Blue Zones, LLC.

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 68 million people on four continents.  Learn more at www.healthways.comExternal Site. Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is a registered trademark of Gallup, Inc. and Healthways, Inc.  All rights reserved.