Communities Lead Wellness Initiative
December 25th, 2017 by Lori Tobias

Live longer by applying principles shared by people who have lived to 100 years old

For people in The Dalles, Oregon, January 2018 isn’t just the month to celebrate a new year. It is the month they will kick off an important step in becoming part of the Blue Zones Project—an initiative designed to lead to a healthier community.

After months spent identifying the health priorities for the community, project leaders in The Dalles will begin the “transformation phase,” which is essentially involving the community in moving ahead on implementing its priorities.
“This is where we can really get people involved with how to participate, how to get engaged,” says Leti Valle, community program manager.

The Blue Zones Project was established in 2010 and inspired by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author who identified five regions of the world—known as Blue Zones—with the highest concentration of people living to be 100 years or older.

Dan researched those regions and came up with the “Power 9”—the commonalities shared in each region.

Nick Buettner, Blue Zones Project community corporate director, describes those commonalities as places where roads and streets are built in ways that encourage natural movement; residents have a strong sense of purpose and could articulate it; they know how to downshift; they eat a healthier diet and fewer calories; they have a focus on family and a strong sense of faith; and they have supportive networks of friendships that reinforced healthy behavior.

“If your three best friends are unhappy or overweight, there’s a good chance you will be,” Nick says. “Health traits flow through a community the same way the flu does. You also need the friends you can call on a bad day.”

The Dalles is one of four communities in Oregon chosen for the initiative. The others are Grants Pass, Klamath Falls and Roseburg. Other western states do not yet participate.

“It was a highly competitive process to be selected,” says Leti. “Seven communities applied. The Blue Zone state team came and visited to check for readiness. We filled out the application in the fall of 2016 and were selected in April 2017.

Since then, the local team has identified its priorities to make The Dalles healthier.

One of the most important is food.

“There have been strong movements to help combat childhood obesity,” Leti says. “We had the highest rate in the state a couple of years ago. Before Blue Zone came to town, everyone was working independently. Now that Blue Zone is here, we are getting everyone in the same room and spending our time where we have the highest impact for the priorities.”

The goal of the food policy is to create an environment where healthy and local foods are available and embraced by all within The Dalles, Leti says, noting they hope to source more local foods and attract mom-and-pop shops to the area.

“We know if we have mom-and-pop local stores in the area, the community gets about 60 cents on the dollar back as opposed to about 20 cents on the dollar from franchises,” Leti says.

Another focus is increasing food security for residents. Currently, food insecurity in the Gorge is at 14 percent, which means 14 percent would have had to skip a meal in the last week.

“We have a very specific objective to increase overall consumption of fruits and vegetables,” Leti says. “It’s all related to making the healthy choice the easier choice. Live longer, better.

“We’re doing all of this because for the first time in history, the life expectancy of our children is shorter than the parents. It’s really sad.”