Sussex County could one day become a Blue Zone if local leaders adopt a project aimed at changing lifestyles so people are healthier, happier and live longer.
Blue Zone is an initiative to bring together healthcare providers, nonprofits, religion-based organizations, governments and large employers in a partnership.
A local Blue Zone chapter would develop a blueprint and timetable for implementing changes in lifestyle that could, ultimately, save millions in healthcare costs.
This is the same Blue Zone that is the subject of a Netflix documentary, hosted by Dan Buettner.
Buettner’s brother, Nick Buettner, Blue Zone program director, and Margaret Brown, vice president of development, visited Lewes Nov. 8 to pitch the Blue Zone concept to local stakeholders.
Brown said getting a Blue Zone up and running locally would take a multimillion-dollar investment over five years, mostly for hiring an executive director and local staff.
A Blue Zone is a place where people live longer. There are six in the world: Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, Calif.; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. Singapore was just added.
Dan Buettner joined National Geographic in 2004 to travel the world to look for longevity. He discovered that people who live in those six places reach 100 years old at a rate 10 times higher than anywhere else.
He identified nine specific traits that those communities share that lead to longer, healthier and happier lives. Blue Zone calls them the Power 9.
“In those places, people didn’t wake up at 50 years old and say, ‘I’m going to exercise and eat healthy so I live to be 100,’” said Nick Buettner. “In those places, longevity is not pursued, it ensues.”
Blue Zone’s mission is to apply those findings to places in this country.
The organization currently works with 51 communities, from Albert Lea, Minn., a city of 18,000 people, to Fort Worth, Texas, with almost 1 million.
Nick Buettner said Blue Zone has seen measurable reductions in risk factors like smoking and high blood pressure, and increases in exercise and infrastructure that support healthy living.
He said those communities have seen major reductions in healthcare costs.
The event in Lewes was billed as an initial community engagement event.
The first session of the day was a roundtable of about 30 stakeholders from around the county. They included elected officials, and representatives from Beebe Healthcare, Cape Henlopen School District and many local nonprofits.
“Our job is to make sure people are as healthy as possible so they do not access healthcare,” said Dr. David Tam, Beebe Healthcare president and CEO. “We can build a new hospital or spend money to change lifestyles.”
The evening session was open to residents and members of other local community organizations.
Both sessions heard Nick Buettner’s presentation on how Blue Zone could impact communities in Sussex County.
“The biggest challenge to getting started is to make sure everyone you need to be successful is at the table, to have the right leadership to identify what’s working well in the community,” Nick Buettner said.
Lewes Mayor Andrew Williams said he thinks the city is on the right track for a project like this. “When I talk about Blue Zone, I say, ‘Oh, that reminds me of Lewes.’ I think that is why it might be a good fit for us,” he said.
For more information. go to bluezones.com.