‘Blue Zones’ Project Ready To Launch In Fort Worth, Aiming To Slice Healthcare Costs, Improve Well-Being

In five years, Jan Titsworth sees more pedestrians on the street in Fort Worth. She envisions restaurants will offer more healthy options and employers will make sure their stairwells are properly lit and the vending machines have fewer chips and candies. It’ll extend to children, too, who will walk to school with their chaperones rather than piling in cars.

“Residents will be moving naturally more and will have, as a community, a greater sense of well-being,” she said.

Titsworth is the executive director of the Blue Zones Project by Healthways, a five-year initiative aimed at changing the way Fort Worth residents live and work. The organization had its launch last night in Fort Worth, wherein organizers detailed to stakeholders the process for the next five years. The program officially begins on January 1.

Organizers, which include Arlington-based Texas Health Resources, will hold 17 community meetings through late September to hear things residents want to see that will make them live better lives. Head here to see the schedule of meetings.

Blue Zones began in 2009 based off a series of nine evidence-based “common denominators” meant to increase an entire community’s well being. Gallup teamed with Healthways to come up with a Well-Being Index, which has now garnered more than 1.5 million completed surveys that help gauge physical and emotional health, healthy behavior, work environment, healthcare access, and how residents evaluate their lives.

“Texas Health Resources’ mission is to improve the health of the people in the communities we serve,” said Lillie Biggins, president of Texas Health Harris Methodist Fort Worth. “We’ve always been concerned about whether we’re doing enough. How can we go one step further in doing that? The Blue Zones project afforded us that opportunity.”

Texas Health Resources paid for the $500,000 assessment, which was conducted by founder Dan Buettner, a National Geographic explorer who based the requirements on the healthiest communities in the world, such as Okinawa, which has one of the world’s longest life expectancies. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas donated $5 million to the project. The city of Fort Worth will need to raise $2.5 million in grant funds by the year’s end.

The program hones in on promoting achievable changes, such as increase walking among pedestrians by improving infrastructure, which Blue Zones calls the ‘built environment.’

“The ladies in Okinawa aren’t going and lifting weights,” Titsworth said, “they are moving naturally every day. Those are the types of subtle changes we need to make our built environment around us.”

The pilot city, Albert Lea, Minnesota, raised life expectancy and lowered healthcare costs for city workers by 40 percent. Iowa, the first state to take up the initiative, boosted its standing as the 19th healthiest state to the ninth healthiest.

Fort Worth will be the largest city to ever take this on. Tittsworth says the Blue Zone values are adaptable to a larger community.

“The principals and practices remain the same,” she said. “It’s just a matter of being able to shift that to this larger perspective and this more diverse community.”

To do that, the 15 Blue Zone employees will take on six different focuses: Employers, schools, restaurants, grocery stores, civic policies, and individual pledges. The city’s already made strides of its own: the Texas Medical Association honored Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price for her wellness initiatives.

Price has launched Fit Worth, which promotes active lifestyles among children and employees as well as the Walk! Fort Worth Pedestrian Transportation Plan, which aims to make the city more walkable.

Texas Health, too, has pitched in to lead the way, Biggins said. Harris Methodist has removed potato chips from its vending machines and cafeterias, has a bike rental location on its campus, and employees have access to a fitness center. “If we can get the healthcare costs down, we can help the employers,” she said. “We have all these Fortune 500 companies here and we need more. When they see we have a healthy workforce, we hope they’ll look into moving here.”

Posted in News, Public Health, Tarrant.