The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on the community health challenges faced across the country. To address these barriers to well-being, communities are seeking new approaches to improving population health that incorporate not just individual lifestyle changes but modifications to the built environment that make healthier choices easy for all residents.
Since it launched in Oregon in 2015 with the support of Blue Zones, LLC, Oregon Healthiest State and Cambia Health Foundation, Blue Zones Project® by Sharecare, a first-of-its-kind population health initiative, has partnered with four communities across the state to change local health outcomes measurably by optimizing public policy, social connections, and the places and spaces where people spend the most time.
Between 2015 and 2019, the latest year for which data is available, Sharecare’s Community Well-Being Index (CWBI) indicates that the state of Oregon significantly outperformed the rest of the nation on measures of well-being such as sense of purpose, social connection, and financial well-being. Below are some of the stories of community well-being transformation that have contributed to that lift and have put local residents on the right path to enjoy healthier lives with lower rates of chronic disease and a higher quality of life.
Tucked away in southern Oregon, Umpqua Valley was the most recent place to be recognized as a certified Blue Zones Community® after it demonstrated improvement in predefined community metrics such as childhood obesity, tobacco usage, and factors related to economic development; and measurable improvement in well-being, according to the CWBI.
Between 2017 and 2019, the share of residents considering themselves to be “thriving” increased from 49% to 56%, thanks to efforts from local leaders and residents to revitalize their community and cultivate thriving environments to live, work, learn, and play in.
After implementing Blue Zones Project principles, local residents as well as the community have benefited financially. Individual financial well-being, a measure of people’s ability to manage their economic life to increase financial security and reduce stress, has increased, while the community accrued an estimated $1.5 million in medical and productivity value in just two years as a result of a 22 percent reduction in poor nutrition, an 8 percent increase in exercise, and a 24 percent improvement in quality-of-life evaluation.
In 2015, Klamath Falls was selected to be the first Blue Zones Project demonstration site in the Pacific Northwest, and local leaders, volunteers, and organizations throughout the area worked diligently with more than 700 local volunteers to achieve Blue Zones Community® certification status. As a result of its efforts, Klamath Falls can celebrate more than $1.3 million in grant funding to support community well-being projects, while new ordinances for smoking cessation and tobacco prevention have led to a 24 percent decrease in smoking rates since 2015.
Klamath Falls also has implemented new city policies to support increased physical activity. As a result of built environment projects like Safe Routes to School, which has contributed to increased feelings of safety and security since the start of the project, approximately 4,400 students have participated in Walking School Bus Days. More than 1,100 individuals have joined a Moai® walking group that promotes building friendships and moving naturally.
Local engagement with Blue Zones Project has been so robust that the town’s mayor declared March 12, 2021, “Blue Zones Day,” a day of celebrations recognizing the community’s achievements.
The Dalles and Grants Pass
The Dalles and Grants Pass have also made great strides toward enhancing well-being.
The Dalles, a town 90 miles east of Portland, has seen a decrease in overweight and obesity of more than 12 percent since 2017. As a sign of the community’s engagement, more than 1,400 people have made a personal pledge to live healthier, longer lives, while more than 3,000 residents have taken part in Community Clean-Up events.
In southern Oregon’s Grants Pass, more than 2,600 individuals and 30 organizations have participated in health and well-being programs offered through Blue Zones Project, while eight local schools have participated in the Walking School Bus program. In just two years, Grants Pass accrued approximately $1.2 million in medical and productivity value.
The leaders and residents of Umpqua Valley, Klamath Falls, The Dalles, and Grants Pass have worked diligently to increase the well-being of their communities through Blue Zones Project. Their efforts have paid clear dividends and have set a strong example throughout Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. These are the kinds of policies and changes that won’t be lost or reverse over time but will continue to impact lives in the communities for generations to come. Through strong local and state partnerships, Oregon communities will remain engaged in this transformative work to improve the well-being of their citizens.
To read the full story of Oregon communities’ well-being transformation, check out our look book. For more information regarding future news and events pertaining to Blue Zones Project’s efforts in Oregon, please visit https://oregon.bluezonesproject.com/.