Pott. County achieves certified Blue Zones Community status

Press Release
The Shawnee News-Star

Avedis Foundation, Sharecare, Inc. and Blue Zones, LLC, announced Monday that Pottawatomie County has been named a certified Blue Zones Community. 

The designation recognizes measured improvements in the health and well-being of local citizens as a result of the successful implementation of Blue Zones Project. Blue Zones Project by Sharecare is a community-led well-being initiative that uses evidence-based best practices to create permanent and semi-permanent changes to built environment, policy and social networks. The work of the project is based on lifestyle lessons of the world’s longest-lived people.

The community will be invited to celebrate this accomplishment at an event to be held in the fall.

“I am so proud of the entire Blue Zones Project Pottawatomie County team. Every project leader, volunteer, business partner and our entire community worked together to become a certified Blue Zones Community,” Shawnee Mayor Ed Bolt said. “It is certainly an honor for Shawnee and Pottawatomie County to achieve this milestone.”

Brought to Pottawatomie County through sponsorship by the Avedis Foundation in collaboration with Sharecare and Blue Zones, the Blue Zones Project initiative encourages Pottawatomie County to optimize its surroundings to make the healthy choice the easy choice. The project is a privately led, publicly-endorsed initiative intended to inspire community members to improve their well-being.

“We are proud of the residents of Pottawatomie County for their commitment to make well-being a way of life,” Avedis Foundation President and CEO Dr. Kathy Laster, said. “This significant achievement required tremendous effort from the entire community, and the policies and programs implemented in Pottawatomie County will also serve as inspiring examples for other communities to follow.”

Local leaders, volunteers and organizations throughout Pottawatomie County have been working to achieve certification status since 2017, when the community was named a Blue Zones Project demonstration site. As a result of its efforts, Pottawatomie County can celebrate the following outcomes:

• Blue Zones Project Approved worksite Gordon Cooper Technology Center experienced a 38 percent increase in employee participation in their well-being program; and a 17 percent increase in employees completing the program requirements; 13 percent increase in employee biometric screening participation; and 20 percent decrease in employees with a red BMI rating (indicating obesity).

• Other Blue Zones Project Approved worksites also enjoyed positive outcomes, with more than a third of SSM Health St. Anthony-Shawnee employees completing the Blue Zones Personal Pledge, and Georg Fischer Central Plastic reporting a 600 percent increase in the number of employees utilizing fitness center benefits (from 18 employees to 113), while costs associated with absenteeism decreased significantly.

• Students from schools participating in the Walking School Bus program walked 7,818 miles in 2019.

• Local restaurants have added more than 70 plant-based items to their menus.

• Blue Zones Project and community partners successfully leveraged $115,500 in grant funding for projects including Safe Routes to Parks, school and community gardens and Veggie Rx.

• According to the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, the rate of cigarette smoking among Pottawatomie County youth (ages 13 – 17 years old) declined from 12.5 percent in 2017 to 9.1 percent in 2018, while many of the Blue Zones Project approved worksites have adopted tobacco-free policies and/or enjoy tobacco-free campuses.

• 329 residents volunteered with Blue Zones Project, totaling more than 2,557 volunteer hours, which equates to more than 106 days of volunteering.

“Congratulations to Pottawatomie County, Shawnee, and all of the community partners for becoming a certified Blue Zones Community. This achievement is a great example of a public-private partnership working together to improve the health and well-being of an entire community,” Congresswoman Kendra Horn (OK-5), said. “The hard work of volunteers, community partners, businesses and community leaders has increased the quality of life and vitality for the whole community and serves as an inspiration for many.”

Pottawatomie County achieved Blue Zones Community status after reaching the following key milestones, all of which are required improvement goals for Blue Zones Project demonstration communities to receive certification:

• 50 percent of the top 20 identified worksites became Blue Zones Project Approved

• 25 percent of schools became approved

• 25 percent of restaurants became approved

• 25 percent of grocery stores became approved

• 50 percent of the top 20 identified faith-based organizations became approved

• 25 percent of citizens have committed to the Blue Zones Project and completed at least one well-being improvement action

• More than 5,000 individuals have taken the Blue Zones Personal Pledge

The community has successfully completed the Blue Zones Community Policy bundle.

“I have followed the progress of Blue Zones Project closely since it was introduced to Pottawatomie County in 2017, and have seen firsthand the positive impact the initiative has had on the community’s well-being. A significant amount of time and resources have been invested by a diverse coalition of local stakeholders in achieving this certification milestone. I applaud them for their efforts, and I look forward to seeing what our community and Blue Zones Project will achieve moving forward. I have both recently and currently been working on legislation to address many of the same issues that have been brought to light by Blue Zones Project to address the alarming risks of such a high number of our state's citizens being physically unfit, especially our youth," state Rep. Danny Sterling, (R)-Dist. 27, said.

Findings from the Community Well-Being Index (CWBI) survey conducted in Shawnee in 2019 confirm the effectiveness of the Blue Zones Project approach to facilitating well-being improvement by influencing the built environment.

Residents engaged with Blue Zones Project experience higher overall well-being than those not as engaged, with 69 percent of those engaged reporting that they are thriving in their life self-evaluation. Conversely, only 48 percent of those not as engaged in Blue Zones Project reported they are thriving.

The 2019 CWBI survey findings additionally confirm that Shawnee outperformed Oklahoma state trends in four key health risks: poor nutrition, lack of exercise, lack of purpose and dissatisfaction with standard of living.

Since Blue Zones Project was introduced in Shawnee in 2017, community well-being — liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in community — has significantly improved and purpose, social and financial well-being have held steady. In contrast, community well-being has been unchanged nationally since 2017.

“We know that communities with greater well-being have lower healthcare costs, higher productivity and are recognized among the best places to live, work and play,” Michael Acker, senior vice president and general manager of Blue Zones Project by Sharecare, said. “With a strong focus on well-being improvement throughout the community, Pottawatomie County has proven they are dedicated to the health of their residents along with the economic and social vitality of the community.”

Two communities in Oklahoma are currently part of the Blue Zones Project, positively influencing well-being outcomes as measured by the Community Well-Being Index.

For more information, visit www.bluezonesproject.com.