‘Blue Zone’ Project May Be Heading to Fort Worth

Fort Worth could become the nation’s largest Blue Zones urban project, designed to improve community health using methods based on the best-selling book of the same name.

Officials from Franklin, Tenn.-based Healthways will be meeting with community stakeholders over the next two weeks to determine whether there is sufficient commitment to launch the project.

If selected, Fort Worth would receive assistance from experts to develop and implement a plan to make environmental, social and policy changes that encourage healthier behavior. Local restaurants would be guided to offer healthier food choices, and the city would invest in walking and cycling paths to make them more attractive than driving.

The initiative stemmed from a 10-year 2012 partnership between Healthways and Texas Health Resources (THR) to help physicians analyze and address patient health behavior. THR contributed $500,000 toward the evaluation.

Barclay Berdan, THR chief operating officer, said THR’s goal is to improve the health of the communities it serves.

“Poor health results in $17 billion in lost productivity in Dallas-Fort Worth annually,” he said. “North Texas and Fort Worth could become the model for the rest of the nation.”

Healthways and Gallup created a Well-Being Index that assesses Americans’ health daily. The index measures emotional and physical health, healthy behavior, work environment, healthcare access, and how they evaluate their lives. The effort has produced 1.5 million completed surveys since 2008. The index would be used to establish Fort Worth’s baseline well-being score and measure its progress.

The Blue Zones author Dan Buettner and Healthways have created three Blue Zone cities in California and 10 in Iowa. The pilot city was Albert Lea, Minn. in 2009. Company officials said the effort raised life expectancy and lowered healthcare costs for city workers by 40 percent.

Fort Worth has become more fitness-conscious under Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who is a cycling enthusiast. The city launched its FitWorth Health City initiative in 2012 to address child obesity and family health. Fit15 is a program encouraging companies to offer employees daily fitness breaks. Fit365 is a web-based wellness resource to allow people to track their daily health and wellness goals. Last month, 19 city community centers grouped children by age to measure health goals, based on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 5-2-1-0 campaign: five servings of fruits and vegetables; no more than two hours of “screen” time; one hour of physical activity; and no sugary soft drinks. The effort added a goal of eight hours of sleep.

Price said Blue Zones could be an umbrella for pulling together the city’s well-being efforts.

“Improving the health of our city is also economic development. When we bring in businesses, they ask, ‘What’s the work force like? Will I spend a fortune on healthcare?’ Blue Zones has never done a city this big,” she said.

Buettner said Healthways does not consider demographics in evaluating city prospects. He said the team determines the city’s readiness based on 55 policies. He said the effort could take three to 10 years.

Joel Spoonheim, Blue Zones Project director of community programs, said evaluators would divide the city into six or seven geographic sectors, or “su-bcommunities.” He said he is working with the city, Hispanic and black chambers of commerce as well as the city’s churches to gauge commitment. The project would start with the most committed city sectors, and attempt to incorporate other parts of the city in stages.

In other Blue Zone communities, the project has required participation of 20 percent of the residents, 25 percent of schools, half of the top 20 employers, and 25 percent of the grocery stores and independent restaurants.

Steve Jacob is editor at large of D Healthcare Daily and author of the book Health Care in 2020: Where Uncertain Reform, Bad Habits, Too Few Doctors and Skyrocketing Costs Are Taking Us. He can be reached at steve.jacob@dmagazine.com.

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