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'Blue Zones' Speaker To Share Blueprint For Longevity, Happiness

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Blue Zones LLC
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Some of the healthiest and happiest people in the world live in "Blue Zones," according to researcher and best-selling author Dan Buettner.

In Greece, Japan, Costa Rica and Sardinia, people in certain communities share a common set of behaviors that help them live longer than others on the planet, Buettner, founder of the Blue Zones Project, said in a telephone interview.

Buettner’s research into “longevity hot zones” around the world for National Geographic magazine revealed their inhabitants were highly focused on their families, more physically, socially and spiritually active, consumed both food and alcohol in moderation, and knew how to decompress and relax. He coined the shared characteristics “the Power9.”

Roughly a decade later, Buettner’s research and the public attention — including an NPR story — surrounding his best-selling book have spawned a Blue Zones phenomenon in the United States. Communities from Minnesota to Florida are using the Blue Zones blueprint to transform themselves into places where people live longer, more satisfying lives.

Buettner’s brother and business colleague, Tony Buettner, will speak at 7 this evening at the ninth annual Built Environment & Outdoor Summit at the DoubleTree Hotel in Overland Park. The event, which runs through midday Thursday, brings health advocates, city officials and others together to discuss how improving the infrastructure and social fabric of communities also can help make them healthier.

Buettner is also scheduled to meet with a delegation from Lawrence and Douglas County representing the LiveWell Lawrence coalition, a health improvement initiative launched in 2009.

A small town in southern Minnesota was the first to attempt the transformation in 2009, Tony Buettner said.

“Dan and his team undertook transforming a city by the name of Albert Lea, Minnesota, population of 18,000. And after 13 months the city reported a 49 percent decrease in city workers’ health care claims, a 13 percent decrease in tobacco usage and an 80 percent increase in people walking and biking and moving naturally,” Tony Buettner said.

The initiative, which was launched in partnership with AARP and the United Health Foundation, also added an estimated 2.9 years to the average lifespan of the town’s residents, according to a summary of the project on the Blue Zones website.

The results “caught the eye” of population health experts around the world, Tony Buettner said, and led to the formation of a strategic partnership with a workplace wellness company and Gallup, the analytics company best known for its polling. The partnership led to the creation of the Gallup-Healthwaves Well-Being Index, which Tony Buettner said can “measure well-being down to the ZIP code.”

“Since that time, we have expanded to 11 states and 30 communities that are undertaking anywhere from a two-year to a 10-year Blue Zone transformation,” he said.

Chris Tilden, director of community health for the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, which helps coordinate the LiveWell Lawrence initiative, said members of the coalition are intrigued by the Blue Zones model.

“We’re certainly looking at whether there are approaches in the Blue Zone model that could work for us,” Tilden said. “What that looks like in the future, we’ll see as we move forward.”

Another community transformation initiative will be in the spotlight Thursday morning at the built environment summit. Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Mark Holland is scheduled to talk about ongoing efforts, begun under former Mayor Joe Reardon, to improve the health of the city and Wyandotte County, which year after year rank among the least healthiest in the state. 

Holland is scheduled to speak at 8:05 a.m. Thursday.

Jim McLean is executive editor of KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

Jim McLean is a political correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration based at KCUR with other public media stations across Kansas. You can email him at jim@kcur.org.
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