A wellness survey landed in several thousand mailboxes in The Dalles to establish a baseline for the Blue Zones Project as it begins a three-year effort to improve community wellness.

The Gallup-Sharecare wellbeing index surveys will be done annually, to measure the effectiveness of the Blue Zones Project, which aims to help people live healthier, more fulfilling lives.

The Dalles was picked as a Blue Zones Project three months ago, and since then, project officials have met individually or through focus groups with over 120 people, and have hired four people who will serve as full-time staffers locally for the project, said Aaron Patnode, executive director of Blue Zones Project Oregon.

The project is patterned after the findings of a man who scoured the globe looking for communities where people lived longest, and what the commonalities were for those groups.

He found not only the expected healthy eating and active lifestyles, but also people with spirituality, a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.

In fact, at another Blue Zones Project that is already well underway in Klamath Falls, Patnode said the purpose-finding sessions hosted by Blue Zones have proved to be popular far beyond expectations.

Their goal was to have 500 people take the sessions in three years. Just under two years into it, over 1,300 people have.

In what’s called the discovery process, Blue Zones officials have talked with people from a variety of areas, including local government, schools, the health care sector, faith-based leaders, grocers and civic organizations, Patnode said.

An expert in the “built environment,” which includes sidewalks, roads, and bike paths, toured The Dalles for two days by foot, bike and car to get a sense of what the community already has and what it could expand on.

The goal is to look at ways that the community can have physical activity be a common part of their lives, he said.

His report will be presented in September, and from that, goals and objectives will be created.

Patnode is also working on creating a 15- to 20-member steering committee that will serve as the board of directors for the Blue Zones Project. The goal is to make it diverse not only in the traditional sense but also in terms of representing a variety of community interests and groups.

Blue Zones is also doing phone interviews to learn about food policy environment and the tobacco policy environment, he said.

The survey, which was sent out July 26, was sent to enough people to ensure a statistically significant sample of responses, he said. The survey questions fall into five categories: physical, social, purpose, community and financial well-being.

Examples of questions include asking the survey taker to say, on a scale of 1 to 10, if the town is right for you. It captures “their sense of fit in that community,” Patnode said.

Another question asks people to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 if they feel they have access to physical activity.

For each of the five categories, the Blue Zones Project has proven strategies that boost well-being.

For businesses that may seek a Blue Zones workplace designation, there are “inherent financial benefits to do this,” Patnode said.

The very first Blue Zones Project was in a town in Minnesota, and the city government the first year saw its insurance costs go down 40 percent because workers were healthier.

In August and September, policy experts will present findings on food policy, smoke and tobacco policy and the built environment policy, he said. There will be a summit for each of those.

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