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Updated: DES MOINES — Roughly 90 Iowa communities took some steps toward becoming Blue Zones this year, but only the four deemed “most ready” made the first cut.

Officials named Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Mason City and Spencer Blue Zones demonstration communities during a Friday morning news conference at Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield headquarters in Des Moines.

The designation means these cities will receive assistance to create and execute plans to make environmental, social and policy changes to help residents lead healthier lives. Another round of winners is expected to be announced later this year.

“We’re pumped,” said Cedar Falls Mayor Jon Crews, who attended the news conference and reception. “There’s a list of things that schools need to do, and businesses and grocery stores, all of those need to be worked on, so these next couple months is more planning on how to get to it.”

Organizers said they chose the first four cities based on several factors, including grass-roots organization, civic engagement, participation and enthusiasm.

“These four cities we are announcing today are the most ready,” Dan Buettner said. “We think the best way to do this, to prove that we can do it in a big way is to go with the cities that are most ready.”

Buettner is the author of “The Blue Zones,” which examines the commonalities in communities where people live longer and healthier lives than the majority of Americans.

The work is the basis of the Blue Zones project in Iowa in which communities were challenged to find ways to help people live healthier lifestyles by making it easier for them to make healthy choices.

“Part of the reason we got it is we put together a very detailed plan,” Mason City Mayor Eric Bookmeyer said. “We included the schools, the businesses, the grocery stores … Our top 20 employers unanimously signed on to this. That’s rare to have each and every one of the top 20 take part.”

The initiative dovetails with Gov. Terry Branstad’s goal to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016 as measured by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

The governor, Buettner, Wellmark CEO John Forsyth, Healthways President and CEO Ben Leedle and about five dozen community and company officials were at Wellmark’s headquarters for the announcement.

“We’re pleased by the progress, but we know there is much more to do,” Branstad said.

State Rep. Deb Berry, D-Waterloo, said the choice “means great things” for her city.

“The reason I like this is that it’s a grass-roots activity, it’s a grass-roots function,” she said.

She said the Blue Zones project is mostly about education.

“One thing I’ve learned is you’ve got to explain things to people so they can relate it to their own life,” she said. “It’s going to take one-on-one education to every person.”

Leedle said work already is under way in choosing the remaining six cities that will serve as demonstration sites.

Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott, whose community wasn’t among the first four, said he’s still committed to the project.

“We wanted to win,” Scott said. “We want to be successful in the second round.”

(The Sioux City Journal contributed to this report.)


Original post: Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Mason City and Spencer were named Blue Zones demonstration communities this morning during a news conference at the Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield headquarters in Des Moines.

The designation means these cities will receive assistance to create and execute plans to make environmental, social and policy changes to help residents lead healthier lives.

The four were selected from among 89 communities that began the application process. Another round of winners will be named later this year.

“We’re pumped,” said Cedar Falls Mayor Jon Crews, who attended the news conference and reception.

The initiative was launched by Wellmark and is based on the work of journalist and author Dan Buettner whose book “Blue Zones” examines the commonalities in communities where people live longer and healthier lives than the majority of Americans.

The initiative dovetails with Gov. Terry Branstad’s goal to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016 as measured by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

Branstad joined Buettner, Wellmark CEO John Forsyth, Healthways President and CEO Ben Leedle and about five dozen community and company officials for the announcement this morning.

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