Oregon communities strive for health and longevity in Blue Zones Project

Not only are people unhealthy, so are whole communities. By many measurements, access to nutritious food, good health care and fitness opportunities fell short in three Oregon cities – Klamath Falls, The Dalles and Grants Pass – and the Umpqua region in southwestern Oregon.

To turn that around, OSU Extension in those communities applied to The Blue Zones Project and were chosen to be Blue Zones Project Demonstration Communities. The program brings various sectors – residents, community, business and civic leaders – together in a commitment to bolster healthy habits. Residents volunteer for initiatives such as encouraging healthy food in schools, grocery stores, workplaces and restaurants.

The Blue Zones Project Communities is inspired by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author who identified five regions of the world – Blue Zones – with the highest concentration of people living 100 years or older.

In addition to need, the four communities demonstrated readiness to change and commitment from residents, business and government through financial contributions, volunteerism or participation in one or more programs. National Blue Zones staff monitor the process and conduct ongoing research to determine results. Extension faculty in each area facilitate connections in the community, serve on committees, and help various sectors carry out the strategies required to receive final Blue Zones designation.

In 2015, Klamath Falls was selected as Oregon's first Blue Zones Project Demonstration Community. After three years, Klamath Falls had measurable impacts that included 20 polices addressing the built environment, food system, or tobacco; an online farmers’ market that accepts food benefits; reopening of a shuttered grocery store by county government; and decrease in tobacco use. Klamath Falls won the prestigious Culture of Health Prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

According to a 2021 report from Cambia Health Foundation, Klamath Falls saw an increase in the feeling of safety and security by 14%, based on community well-being surveys in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

In those surveys, Umpqua Valley – which has been certified as a Blue Zones Community – the number of residents who consider themselves to be “thriving” is up more than 17% in the wake of Blue Zones project implementation, from 48.1 percent in 2017 to 56.4 percent in 2019.

The Dalles and Grants Pass have also improved health and well-being outcomes. The number of The Dalles residents who say they feel proud of their community increased by 20% since 2017. More than 1,400 people have made a personal pledge to live healthier, longer lives and over 3,000 residents have engaged in Community Clean-Up events.

In Grants Pass, more than 2,600 individuals and 30 organizations have participated in health and well-being programs offered through Blue Zones Project, while eight local schools have participated in the Walking School Bus program.

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