On Thursday, Avedis Foundation, Blue Zones, LLC and Healthways, Inc., announced the launch of the Blue Zones Project in Pottawatomie County.

THE ISSUE: Shawnee's Avedis Foundation has launched a partnership with Blue Zones.

LOCAL IMPACT: Oklahoma is ranked as one of the worst states in the nation in overall wellbeing. The Blue Zones program — a wellbeing initiative to improve health outcomes — has estimated that the area could see $44 million in medical cost savings over the next 10 years through the program, as well as many other benefits.

On Thursday, Avedis Foundation, Blue Zones, LLC and Healthways, Inc., announced the launch of the Blue Zones Project in Pottawatomie County.

Shawnee is Oklahoma's inaugural site for the program, which is a growing nationwide well-being improvement initiative designed to make healthy choices easier through changes to environment, policy and social networks.

So far, Blue Zones has established itself in 38 communities across nine states.

“Avedis is excited to welcome the Blue Zones Project to Pottawatomie County to further our vision to improve health, wellness and quality of life,” Avedis Foundation President and CEO Michelle Briggs said. “The feedback we received from our community has been overwhelmingly positive. It is obvious that Pottawatomie County is ready to take the next step in improving the quality of life throughout our communities and we believe the project is the right approach to achieve that level of transformation.”

Blue Zones Senior Vice President Tony Buettner said over the last six months he's had the opportunity to come and speak to about 400 members in the community about his program.

“I do this around the country ... and I've never seen a community so poised to do extraordinary things,” he said. “... The opportunity to better the well-being of the citizens of the community is there; we are absolutely honored.”

The process the groups navigated to enter the joint venture appears to have been reasonably seamless.

“From the first initial conversation Tony had here to the point of this kickoff, this is actually the fastest we've ever gone,” Michael Acker, Blue Zones general manager, said, “and I think it's a real testament to leadership and the way this community works together in the fabric of how you guys collaborate, so we're just really thrilled to be a part of that.”

How Blue Zones began

In an effort to discover how to live longer, healthier lives, in 2004 a team went in search of those who could best provide the answer –– people breaking the 100-year mark with no signs of slowing down.

“What began as a National Geographic expedition to find the longest living cultures evolved into a recipe for living longer that we’re taking across the country,” Blue Zones author Dan Buettner states on the website, bluezones.com.

The journey revealed a handful of hotspots where many age-defiers thrive: Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, Calif.; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Nicoya, Costa Rica.

Blue Zones speaker Ben Leedle said what the group found was a number of similarities in the way of life for the centenarians.

According to the Danish Twins Study, 80 percent of a person's lifespan is determined by lifestyle choices and environmental factors –– only 20 percent is genetic.

Among the main contributors to a longer, healthier life included having a primarily plant-based (fruits and veggies) diet, a committed social network, regular physical activity, a system of faith and a purpose to fulfill, Leedle said.

The group is now entering specific sites to seed the environment with the host of longevity-based components to boost potential for increased wellbeing.

The group has seen much promise in areas where they have replicated the formula.

Since 2009, the community in Albert Lea, Minn. –– the group's flagship endeavor –– has shed 12,000 pounds, slashed healthcare costs, and added over three years to their average life expectancy, according to the Blue Zones website.

Why here?

Right now, Oklahoma ranks 48th in overall wellbeing.

Blue Zones believes it can help.

In October, Avedis organized an informational seminar where Speaker Ben Leedle introduced the Blue Zones concept to local attendees.

According to data gathered about Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain and Pottawatomie Counties –– a population of 412,645 –– 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

Year after year, the state ranks 46 to 48 in the nation in overall health outcomes and of the 77 counties, Pottawatomie County ranks 37th (per the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps).

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 participates 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

For more information, visit bluezonesproject.com.

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