DES MOINES (AP) — Six Iowa communities will join in the privately funded Blue Zone program designed to reduce obesity, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad announced Wednesday.
Sioux City, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Muscatine, Oskaloosa and Marion were named Blue Zone demonstration cities, joining 19 other Iowa cities that are participating in the effort.
Under the program, teams will work with the communities for two years to develop healthier food options and create effective public health policy.
Branstad was joined by Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and others in announcing the decision at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield headquarters in Des Moines. Wellmark has donated $5 million toward the program each year since it started in 2011.
Branstad has said the program is essential to reaching his goal of making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.
Backers of the effort claim the program could save Iowans as much as $1.6 billion in health care costs by 2018.
Mason City has one more year to complete its requirements before becoming a certified Blue Zone.
City Administrator Brent Trout said that with the assistance of health experts, Mason City has started community gardens, walks and exercise days. Town leaders joined weight loss programs and set an example by publicly sharing how many pounds they shed.
It takes months for communities to collect health data to submit as part of the application process for Blue Zone status.
Communities make use of the results of a survey called the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which measures the physical and emotional health of residents.
“It tells you everything you wanted and didn't want to know about your community,” Trout said.
The health expert teams then work with communities to develop strategies within the community to improve the index score up to Blue Zone standards.
Sioux City tried and failed to become a Blue Zone last year, but residents worked to get a jump-start on their reapplication process by adding healthy food items to the Tyson Event Center Arena.
City Manager Paul Eckert said he expects that Sioux City's new status as a Blue Zone site will qualify it for other types of state assistance in the future.
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