Food spread at Blue Zone announcement.

Governor Branstad has joined executives with the state’s largest insurance company, urging Iowa communities to consider seeking what they call “Blue Zone” status.

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans to designate 10 Iowa communities as “Blue Zones” over the next five years, sending in consultants who will show that city’s residents 108 different ways to life a healthier life.

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Sheild CEO John Forsyth says most chronic diseases and more than 20 types of cancer are linked to unhealthy lifestyles.

“The good news is when you start to look at this and you look at people’s health status, only 20 percent of it is genetics, so what it means is 80 percent of our health status is in our control,” Forsyth says. “And when you take a step back, that’s really powerful and, in fact, that’s what ‘Blue Zones’ are all about. Let’s take control of our health status.”

Wellmark will conduct an on-line “webinar” on September 27 to let Iowans learn more about the “Blue Zone” project.  

The governor says he’s endorsing the private company’s initiative in hopes of getting Iowa to his goal of being the healthiest state in the country.

“We are not trying to pass a bunch of restrictive laws,” Branstad says. “What we are trying to do is demonstrate the opportunities to live a healthier lifestyle, something that’s better for people themselves.”

Dan Buettner, the consultant who created the “Blue Zone” concept, says Americans now live in “environments of ease and excess” and the lifestyle changes he’s outlined can help Iowans live longer and more fulfilling lives.

“We don’t come imposing anything,” he says. “What we bring is 108 evidence-based interventions, some of them are policies, that have worked elsewhere at lowering obesity rates or lowering cardiovascular disease.”

According to Buettner, making streets and sidewalks safer for pedestrians and bicyclists can raise the physical activity of residents in the area by as much as 40 percent.

 Listen to today’s Wellmark news conference about Blue Zones