Local leaders pursuing Blue Zone Project city designation

Meeting held to inform, generate community support

Local leaders gathered with county health officials last week to consider pursuit of a new program committed to improving citizen longevity and community livability.

According to Holly Wentzel, AmeriCorps VISTA at the Crook County Health Department, Blue Zones is a concept used to identify a demographic or geographic area of the world where people live measurably longer lives.

“National Geographic researcher Dan Buettner identified longevity hotspots in Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria Greece; and among the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, Calif., and offers an explanation, based on empirical data and firsthand observations, why these populations live healthier and longer lives,” she explained. “Buettner further identified specific reasons for that longevity, which turned into the Blue Zone Project.”

In Oregon, the Blue Zone Project is selecting one community as its next project city. That city would receive a $1.4 million grant oriented toward community-wide well-being improvement and making healthy choices easier for residents.

“By bringing residents, worksites, schools, restaurants, grocery stores and government together, Blue Zone Project works to inspire a community movement that has the power to improve the quality of life for everyone,” Wentzel said.

Health leaders have begun efforts in Prineville to apply for the Blue Zone Project designation. The application is due this coming Friday and is dependent upon a show of support from the community. To that end, representatives from multiple community organizations were invited to attend a stakeholders meeting last Thursday at Prineville City Hall.

“It was definitely a success,” Wentzel said, noting people came from the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce, Lutheran Community Services, St. Charles Health System, the Crook County Court, Prineville City Council, the Crook County Parks and Recreation District and the local faith-based community.

“Everybody was really excited about it,” she added. “We got a lot of support letters from that, so we are just working further on getting this application completed and submitted.”

In addition to the grant funding, the Blue Zone Project, operated through the Oregon Business Council, provides on-the-ground help.

“If we were to be selected, they would hire a team to lead the Blue Zone Project here,” Wentzel said.

While support was strong at the meeting, resulting in multiple support letters, Prineville is facing a competitive process. So far, Klamath Falls is the only selected Blue Zone Project city and the state program is only selecting one more at this time. In addition to community support, the application will be judged on community size, existing funding and community need, a category determined by recent health rankings and local health data.

“We will hear back on whether we were selected as one of the three final cities,” Wentzel said of the process going forward. “Then, they will do site visits to each of those cities.”

Local leaders should find out if Prineville has made the cut by mid-November.

“The Blue Zone Project has demonstrated success in lowering healthcare costs, improving productivity, increasing civic engagement and boosting national recognition as a great place to live, learn, work and play,” Wentzel stated. “We are really excited about it.”