At the end of the month, the first public opportunity for participation with Blue Zones Project in Pottawatomie County is being set to discuss well-being across sectors in the community.

THE ISSUE: Statistics show Pottawatomie County — and Oklahoma in general — are counted among the worst when it comes to overall health.

LOCAL IMPACT: Avedis Foundation has contracted with Blue Zones in an effort to reverse those stats. The first of many public forums is being set this month to encourage the community to be proactive in the process of effecting that change.

At the end of the month, the first public opportunity for participation with Blue Zones Project in Pottawatomie County is being set to discuss well-being across sectors in the community.

The discussions and a social event will take place Feb. 28 and March 1 upstairs in the Conference Center at the Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center, 1700 W. Independence.

Blue Zones Project Community Coach Jill Gray said project coordinators are hosting small group discussions around community policy, individual engagement, worksites, restaurants, grocery stores, faith-based organizations and schools.

“Our goals are to gather the current state of well-being and determine how we can best work with residents and organizations to help make Pottawatomie County an even better place to live,” she said.

According to current statistics, Oklahoma ranks 48th in overall wellbeing.

Blue Zones believes it can help.

In October, the Avedis Foundation hosted an informational seminar, bringing Blue Zones representatives to the community in an effort to gauge how its concept might benefit the area.

According to data gathered about Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain and Pottawatomie Counties –– a population of 412,645 –– Blue Zones speaker Ben Leedle offered a diagnostic of the area:

• one in two: Do not exercise

• one in three: Experience physical pain

• one in three: Worry about money

• one in four: Health is not near perfect

• one in six: Have exercise restrictions

• one in seven: Challenged to afford food, health care and/or medicines

• one in eight: Challenged with hope and purpose

The Blue Zones researchers broke it down further –– singling out Pottawatomie County alone. The data results were dismal.

Leedle said the county is driving up the risks for higher costs to address these health issues.

Pottawatomie County rates 45.3 percent in Body Mass Index (BMI), whereas the four counties together show 35.9 percent.

In tobacco use, the county shows 36.7 percent while the four combined counties register at 22.8 percent.

Stress is rated 43.9 percent for Pottawatomie County and the four together show 39.5 percent. Also, high blood pressure is 4.1 percent higher –– at 37.8 percent ––than the group of counties.

“There is an exacerbation here,” Leedle said.

Smoking and obesity are key areas of concern for the area, Leedle said.

“If Blue Zones came here, “ he said, “over 10 years the area could see $44 million in savings in medical costs alone.”

Leedle said if Shawnee chooses to participate in the Blue Zones project, the city can expect a laundry list of positive results:

• a measurable increase in wellbeing

• lower health care costs

• improved productivity

• alignment for grants, gifts and funding

• less tobacco usage

• more active population

• drop in obesity rates

• boost in economic vitality

The Blue Zones concept

According to bluezones.com, the Blue Zones program is based on the assumption that we spend 90 percent of our lives in a 20-mile “Life Radius.” Within that life radius we focus on optimizing:

• The built environment: Improving roads and transportation options, parks, and public spaces

• Municipal policies and ordinances: Promoting activity and discouraging junk food marketing and smoking

• Restaurants, schools, grocery stores and workplaces: Building healthier options into the places people spend most of their time

• Social networks: Forming and nurturing social groups that support healthy habits

• Habitat: Helping people design homes that nudge them into eating less and moving more

• Inner selves: Encouraging people to reduce stress, find their purpose, and give back to the community

For more info

Residents who are interested in attending can email PottawatomieCounty@healthways.com for more information or to RSVP for the focus group discussions, visit http://go.bluezonesproject.com/pottawatomie_county_rsvp?hs_preview=TvTHAPxg-4651151921.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.