Over the past several months, the Blue Zones Project (BZ) team has collected data about Shawnee and Pottawatomie County and gathered insights from residents to learn about the area for the purpose of addressing problematic health statistics plaguing the community — and the state.

THE ISSUE: Oklahoma is ranked as one of the worst states in the nation in overall well-being. 

LOCAL IMPACT: Shawnee's Avedis Foundation has launched a partnership with Blue Zones. The Blue Zones program — a well-being 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.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first part in a two-part series sharing the findings collected from the Blue Zones Project's recent focus groups and tours of the community.]

Over the past several months, the Blue Zones Project (BZ) team has collected data about Shawnee and Pottawatomie County and gathered insights from residents to learn about the area for the purpose of addressing problematic health statistics plaguing the community — and the state.

After its launch in January — thanks to the Avedis Foundation, BZ has organized several opportunities for the public to share input.

Avedis President and CEO Michelle Briggs said, “The feedback we received from our community (about Blue Zones) 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.”

BZ Senior Vice President Tony Buettner said he's never seen a community so poised to do extraordinary things.

The BZ team recently organized several public focus-group meetings, as well as some tours of the city and county during its Discovery Phase to learn more about the community and its residents.

Some of the group's findings are outlined between two sets of events — focus groups and area tours.

Focus groups

BZ team members heard from 189 community members through focus groups and 36 leaders and organizations through individual meetings.

“This level of participation in the Discovery and Planning phase is unprecedented and a testament to the community's level of readiness to start the project,” the report reads.

According to the 2016 State Well-Being Rankings produced by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index (WBI), Oklahoma ranked 48 out of 50 states for state well-being, indicating many areas for improvement.

The well-being domains of social, financial, and physical had the lowest scores, while the state ranked in the middle for purpose and community well-being.

• Well-being Index score (out of 100): 60.5

• Physical State Rank: 48

• Community State Rank: 33

• Financial State Rank: 46

• Social State Rank: 48

• Purpose State Rank: 35

When compared to Oklahoma City, the nation, and top metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), Shawnee ranks above all in the areas of inactivity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. Only Oklahoma City beat Shawnee in tobacco use. The level of stress in Shawnee was reportedly very close with the nation and Oklahoma City, with MSAs a bit lower.

Disease prevalence showed Shawnee ranking above the others in diabetes, depression, cancer and physical pain.

The report states that in order to get a real-time understanding of the current state of well-being in Shawnee, the group conducted a WBI oversample of the community within the two zip codes — 74801 and 74804 — from late March to early April. Gallup issued WBI surveys to 4,000 randomly selected households with the goal to collect 750 completed surveys to conduct an analysis.

Results will be shared with the community in May, the report reads.

The results will inform Blueprint strategies so the project prioritizes areas that have the greatest room for improvement.

Walking tour

In March, Dan Burden and Samantha Thomas, BZ national walkability leaders, visited Shawnee. The duo assessed the area via a walking audit, bike tour and driving tour, while gathering input from the public.

More than 40 residents took part in the walking tour — as well as two dozen on the bike tour and 11 on the driving tour.

Also, a recent Shawnee Community Survey, ranking the wants/desires of residents, has been helpful and utilized by BZ team members in their retrieval of data.

Why here?

Right now, Oklahoma ranks 48th in overall well-being.

BZ believes it can help.

In October, Avedis organized an informational seminar where Speaker Ben Leedle introduced the BZ 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).

BZ 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.

“Over 10 years the area could see $44 million in savings in medical costs alone,” he said.

Leedle said if Shawnee participates in the BZ project, the city can expect a laundry list of positive results:

• a measurable increase in well-being

• 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.

Watch for Part II — another article summarizing the strengths, challenges and opportunities across various sectors of the community — in a future edition of The Shawnee News-Star.

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