Contact: Thomas Hottman
It's official: Klamath Falls is now a Blue Zones Project community.
Representatives from the Blue Zones Project at Healthways, Cambia Health Foundation and Oregon Healthiest State made the announcement Monday afternoon at the Sky Lakes Wellness Center.
"We selected Klamath Falls as the first community in Oregon to become a Blue Zone," said Peggy Maguire, the president and board chair of Cambia Health Foundation. She called the decision a "super announcement."
After a months-long assessment to determine the community's readiness for the health transformation initiative, the final positive verdict was delivered to community leaders, including Sky Lakes Medical Center CEO Paul Stewart, Mayor Todd Kellstrom, Klamath County Commissioner Kelley Minty-Morris, and city and county school district superintendents Paul Hillyer and Greg Thede.
Live longer, better
The initiative will encourage healthy changes built into the environment and social networks, suggesting policy and program changes community-wide, such as in schools, at work sites, restaurants, grocery stores, neighborhoods and faith-based organizations.
The program's goals are to help people live longer and better, lowering healthcare costs, improving productivity and enjoying a higher quality of life.
Maguire, along with staff from Oregon Healthiest State, including executive director Katie McClure, and Blue Zones Project staff, including consultant Erika Graves, noted Klamath Falls residents' leadership, excitement and enthusiasm about the initiative.
Klamath Falls will be a demonstration community, Maguire said, and the "great leadership," and "really engaged community" show citizens are committed to taking charge of their own health, and the health of the community as a whole, she said.
"We're all in this together and we're here to support you every step of the way," Maguire said. "Congratulations, Klamath Falls."
There is a little bit of pressure that comes along with being the first Blue Zones Project community in the state, McClure said; the community will be expected to share what it learns and its challenges with other communities in Oregon.
Congratulations and now begins the hard work," she said.
As part of the presentation, the team released a lengthy assessment report, detailing its findings from the assessment period, which began after the first Blue Zones announcement in March.
As part of the readiness assessment, the Blue Zones team researched previous community health assessments, learned more about various organizations, and conducted a comprehensive health survey to use as a baseline to track changes in the health of the community. The health survey, which uses the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, will be released in August, Graves said.
During the presentation, Graves quickly highlighted community strengths, challenges, and opportunities in several key areas, including schools, grocery stores, built environment, and more.
Community involvement almost across the board is a significant community strength, Graves said; the Blue Zones team saw higher turnout at its focus groups held in May than any other previous Blue Zones community, she said. That level of involvement and partnership is also a strength within the school, worksite, grocery stores, and faith-based sectors.
Other strengths include the community's world class sports and recreation facilities, extensive trail systems, an openness to work together to tackle problems, active farmers markets and food banks, and a group of engaged young professionals, Graves said.
Challenges in Klamath Falls include a lack of safe routes to schools for students to walk or bike, a short growing season for local produce, a high number of fast food restaurants, lack of trail connectivity, wide, over-built streets, youth access to tobacco products, lack of gardening and cooking skills, and the challenge of reaching diverse or more rural citizens, Graves said.
The next step will be hiring local Blue Zones staff; and the company is in the midst of the interview process for those positions.
The local team will be made up of four employees: a director, program manager, an organization lead, who will drive the work in schools, at worksites, in stores and help those groups use Blue Zones tools, and an engagement lead, who will work on marketing, with media, and event planning.
Blue Zones is also seeking members for a leadership team and a steering committee, both of which will help guide the project in each of its focus sectors.
That team, along with members of various committees to be formed, will produce a Blueprint, a community recommendation report that will include specific priorities, action items, and measure success of the projects.
Following the release of the Blueprint, which will likely be in late fall or winter, Klamath Falls will celebrate Blue Zones with a community kick-off party in January or February, Graves said.
What is Blue Zones?
Blue Zones is based on principles identified during an eight-year worldwide longevity study, started in 2004, commissioned by National Geographic and detailed in Dan Buettner's book, "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest," which became a "New York Times" bestseller.
The study identifies world regions with the highest centenarian concentrations, or people who live to be 100 years or older. There are five Blue Zones regions: Loma Linda, Calif.; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy and Ikaria, Greece.
These areas share nine common traits, called the Power 9, that contribute to longevity.
Those commonalities include moving naturally throughout the day, for an average of 20 minutes a day, having a sense of purpose, eating a plant-based diet, enjoying a glass of wine, reducing stress, eating less, being part of a faith-based community, staying close with family, and maintaining positive social networks.
In 2009, the Blue Zones team partnered with AARP and the United Health Foundation to test whether the Power 9 could help residents in American communities live longer, healthier and happier lives. The Blue Zones Project started in Albert Lea, MN. After one year, participants added an estimated 2.9 years to their average lifespan while healthcare claims for city worker dropped 49 percent.
Since then, the Blue Zones Project has worked on community transformations in the Beach Cities of Southern California, several cities and towns in Iowa, Fort Worth, TX, Hawaii, North Central, IN, and Southwest Florida.