The initial outreach work of The Dalles Blue Zones Project — a three-year community wellness initiative — begins next week with a series of focus group sessions over three days.
The focus groups will seek input on a variety of topics, from creating more trails and sidewalks, to ways to make workplaces more productive and employees happier, to how churches can contribute to the town’s well-being.
The free focus group meetings, all held at the Civic Auditorium, and all about 90 minutes long, will be offered three times apiece, Monday through Wednesday, to give people flexibility on when they can attend.
Morning and afternoon sessions are available.
Lee Collinge, statewide engagement and marketing lead for the Oregon Blue Zones Project, said the sessions will be “little tables of people coming together and chatting.” The ideal group size is eight to 10 people, but smaller groups can also make for good discussions.
The Dalles was named A Blue Zones Project earlier this year. Four people will be hired locally to help the community tailor local efforts with a goal of making healthy choices easier for everyone.
The focus groups cover five areas: community policy, such as creating trails and sidewalks, lowering tobacco usage and making it easier to access healthy foods; how worksites can encourage well-being, improve productivity and inspire a happier workforce; how schools can help kids learn lifelong health habits; individual engagement to get residents information, inspiration and tools to live longer, better; and exploring ways faith organizations can contribute to community well-being.
The first session takes place Monday, May 22, 4:45 p.m. to 6 p.m., the second and third are on Tuesday, May 23, 8:15 a.m. to 9:45 a.m., and again 4:15 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.
The final one is Wednesday, May 24, 10:15 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. For a full list of when each focus group topic will be covered, and to sign up, visit go.bluezonesproject.com/thedalles_rsvp.
Registration opens 45 minutes prior to each focus group session, and will include a brief overview of the Blue Zones Project.
Collinge said this process was just completed in Grants Pass, which was also named a Blue Zones Project the same time The Dalles was. She said those focus groups went well, and people have already begun signing up for focus groups here, “so I think it’s going to be great.”
The three-year Blue Zones effort costs $2.5 million, with the Portland-based Cambia Health Foundation paying $1.7 million and the community paying the remaining $800,000.
The objective of Blue Zones is to help a community transform itself to support healthy living in a lasting and manageable way, Collinge said.
The Blue Zones Project is based on the findings of a man who searched the globe for where people lived the longest, and what their habits and lifestyles were.
He found five regions with the highest concentration of folks living to 100 or older, and all had nine commonalities. They included not only healthy eating and activity, but more surprising findings like connecting socially, having purpose, drinking wine, and practicing their faith.
The Blue Zones Project works to implement those healthy patterns in communities.
The project focuses not only on physical health, but on social, emotional and financial health, Collinge said.
“We have three basic areas of focus, we work on helping communities improve or focus on eating wisely, moving naturally but also connecting socially,” she said.
“We work with worksites, schools, restaurants, grocery stores,” Collinge said. They work with those environments to inspire people to try out healthy practices that they might not yet be doing.
The initiative focuses a logt on walking groups and healthy eating and “encouraging people to give things a try,” she said.
The goal is to move the body throughout the day, whether that be waking, biking, running, or simply doing stretches.
The Blue Zones Project also offers purpose workshops, where people gather to either work on finding or deepening their purpose.
Other towns have started “Wine at Five” gatherings where people learn about healthy activities while having a wine reception or wine happy hour.
The focus group will be followed by policy summits with policy makers and other community advocates, probably in June, Collinge said. Then a Gallup-Sharecare Wellbeing Index survey will be sent out. It will measure community health markers like tobacco use, exercise and food habits, as well as social, emotional and financial health, and will be done all three years of the project.
It will ask questions such as how safe you feel in your community, what your housing is like and if you feel connected to other people.
A strategic planning process will create a blueprint for implementing the wellbeing initiative, Collinge said. The big community kickoff event will probably be in the fall, and she hopes 1,000 people will attend. Already, 40 other communities have become Blue Zones Project sites, with the first in Minnesota in 2009.
The communities reported lower tobacco use, lower insurance rates, healthier food options at restaurants and stores, more water consumption, and weight loss.
Blue Zones is a program offered by a company called Sharecare. Sharecare was contracted by Oregon Healthiest State to bring in the Blue Zones Project to the state. Oregon Healthiest State is a privately led, publicly supported partnership aiming at making Oregon the healthiest state in the nation.
In turn, Oregon Healthiest State’s main funder is the Cambia Health Foundation.