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Blue Zones Project Scottsdale begins first Arizona community collaboration

Photo of Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega at the May 4 Blue Zones Scottsdale Event
Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega provided general remarks at the May 4 announcement of Blue Zones Project Scottsdale at The Fieldhouse at Scottsdale Stadium. (Photo: Terrance Thornton/

Blue Zones Project Scottsdale becomes official May 4

By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

We are all in this together and none of us are getting out alive so why should we not be creating an environment that promotes a life of joy, purpose and longevity?

HonorHealth Vice President of Government and Community Affairs Michelle Pabis took to the stage of The Fieldhouse at Scottsdale Stadium this morning to announce a public-private partnership: Blue Zones Project Scottsdale.

“Some of you have been here since the beginning,” she said as she addressed the hundreds of business, philanthropic and government leaders gathered in Scottsdale this morning. “I want to take this moment to thank you for attending this event and your enthusiasm for this initiative.”

The program “Blue Zones Activate” is a three-phase program based on principles identified during a 20-year worldwide longevity study commissioned by National Geographic and detailed in the New York Times bestseller, “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest and The Blue Zones Solution,” by Dan Buettner.

Naomi Imatome-Yun, who serves as editor-in-chief at Blue Zones, is no stranger to the world of wellness serving previously as managing editor at Forks Over Knives and is a best-selling Wall Street Journal author.

“I knew Dan when I was still doing Forks Over Knives and anyone working in the health and wellness publication space knows of the Blue Zones Project — I came on board about six years ago,” she told the Digital Free Press at the May 4 Blue Zones Project Scottsdale launch event an arrow’s shot from City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

“The research itself is life-changing. It is the allocation of new research. Blue Zones approach is built to allow cities to improve. We all live in America but in terms of health we are not in the best shape compared to the rest of the world.”

Earlier this year, the city of Scottsdale, through sponsorship at HonorHealth, commissioned a Blue Zones assessment of where the community stands in the state of well-being metrics.

HonorHealth reports the Blue Zones assessment found the following strengths and opportunities in the community:

  • Operational: The coordination and commitment of leading organizations across all sectors is a strong indicator of readiness.
  • Infrastructure: The accessibility of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and “Greenbelt” already provide opportunities to leverage. There are additional opportunities to create nudges in the built and natural environment to further encourage more daily natural movement.
  • Food and agriculture: There can be a thriving array of health food initiatives that address food access, food skills, food infrastructure and food culture. Scottsdale Unified School District’s school gardens already show a commitment to nutrition and access.
  • Mental health: This was identified as a key issue by numerous focus groups from worksites to schools. Opportunities exist to leverage current capabilities like HonorHealth’s Via Linda Behavioral Hospital, to strengthen social and emotional health through a sense of purpose (volunteerism), and to connect social services better by partnering with the city, worksites, civic organizations and faith-based communities.

Dan Buettner, Jr. served as moderator for the event featuring a panel of industry and community leaders:

  • Todd LaPorte, HonorHealth CEO
  • Tim O’Neal, Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona CEO
  • Kim Shepard, commercial market president, Cigna Healthcare of Arizona
  • Sarah Kearney, Blue Zones Project executive director

Blue Zones Project Scottsdale begins to take shape

In Scottsdale, the Blue Zones Project is lead by Executive Director Sarah Kearney, who spoke of universal truths many hold dear as catalyst for accepting the role at the public-private enterprise.

“This resonated personally and professionally for me. The more I learn about Blue Zones the more invested I become,” she said to the hundreds in attendance of what she believes will become the next ‘big thing’ of Scottsdale. “I want to make sure my parents are around and I want to make sure myself and my husband are around and we have children who we are preparing for the world. With all of that, this is starting here in Scottsdale and that is a special thing.”

Blue Zones Project Scottsdale is hiring and seeking various advisory volunteer roles, officials announced today.

“It took me about 15 years to understand that while I was examining people who were living these long lives they are not trying to change their behaviors — they are not trying to be happier,” Mr. Buettner said to those in attendance. “It happens as a result of their ecosystem or their environment. The foods they eat are the cheapest.”

Mr. Buettner went on to explain many of the nine tenets of keystone community characteristics examined by the Blue Zones method can help to shape the current socioeconomic state of affairs of any community.

“The option to be lonely is not there or difficult,” he said of these Blue Zone communities. “People are coming to your door. Your neighbors are knocking on your door, trying to get you to come to church or the community festival.”

In no uncertain terms, it takes a village-like mentality for a community to allow a healthy environment to emerge, Mr. Buettner eluded during his panel discussion earlier today.

“The foods they eat are the cheapest. They streets are active, there are not vacant lanes of traffic everywhere,” he explained of places like Sardinia, Italy. “The whole village nurtures the children. The idea is not to convince people to eat beans but it is to help them see and create an environment that doesn’t set them up for failure.”

On an annual basis, Mr. Buettner offers, more than 600,000 Americans die as a result of poor diet and lifestyle choices.

“That is not their fault,” he said. “It is not because they have less discipline … Our environment is setting us up for failure. It is almost impossible to escape empty calories. We have engineered all of the cheap social connections out of our lives.”

It is what it is, Mr. Buettner contends, but it doesn’t mean Americans can’t overcome these challenges.

“This is not because Americans are bad. Individual responsibility is a good idea but it is not working,” he said. “It only works if we work together.”

Blue Zones Project Scottsdale leaders emerge

HonorHealth, Cigna Healthcare, and Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona appear to be in solidarity when it comes to the need for a Blue Zones Project to be developed in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“As the largest employer and healthcare provider in Scottsdale, we are committed to improving the health and well-being of everyone in Scottsdale and throughout the Valley, and that means expanding our efforts outside hospital walls,” Mr. Laporte said. “We are fortunate to live in a beautiful place. However, loneliness and isolation have been growing within our community and one out of two Scottsdale residents currently report they are struggling with their health. Now is the time to act to improve the well-being of the communities we serve, and this Blue Zones Project will help us build a sustainable future.”

Of the more than 70 American cities Blue Zones Project officials report: double-digit drops in obesity and smoking rates, economic investment in downtown corridors, grant funding awards to support policies and programs to improve health equity, and measurable savings in healthcare costs.

Mr. O’Neil says the Blue Zones Project checks all of the boxes for helping Goodwill meet its objectives.

“Goodwill is a social impact engine that has helped Arizonans build pathways out of poverty for more than 75 years,” He said. “We are passionate about creating opportunities and communities where every person can thrive, and the Blue Zones Project will help us drive sustainable change. We are proud to partner with Blue Zones and other Valley leaders on such an important initiative.”

The launch of the Blue Zones Project is collaborative pursuit with the city of Scottsdale that involves the entire community working together toward one common goal, proponents of the effort say.

“Cigna Healthcare’s mission is to improve the health and vitality of those we serve, and Blue Zones Project can help us achieve this by sustainably improving health, well-being, and vitality at the community level,” Ms. Shepard said. “We are proud to partner with leading organizations HonorHealth and Goodwill in this effort; together, we can create a healthier, happier community with higher vitality and quality of life.”

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