COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. — The NCH Healthcare System brought the Blue Zones Project to Southwest Florida in 2015 with the goal of cutting down on chronic disease and increasing the quality and quantity of people's lives. Six years later, Fox 4 is explaining what it is and looking into the data for our area.
The Blue Zones Project works with people, places, policy and infrastructure to make healthier choices easier.
"We work with schools, or work sites, or homeowner's associations, or faith-based organizations or even restaurants," Deb Logan, the Executive Director of the Blue Zones Project of Southwest Florida, said.
She said they work in Collier County, Bonita Springs, and Estero to encourage little nudges toward a healthier lifestyle. For example, they'll work directly with restaurants at no cost.
“So if you're going to a steak house, if there's an option to have a plant-based meal, somebody has a choice. It doesn't take away the choice of the steak, but it gives someone an additional choice," Logan said.
She said Blue Zones works in policy to make healthy food more accessible to everyone, and works with community leaders and planners.
"Help make communities more walkable, bikable, easier access to transit, so people can move more naturally not depend on cars only," Logan said.
For example, when a City Council decides to redo a road for a storm water project, Blue Zones encourages them to consider if the road has a bike lane or sidewalk.
"Is there a safe place for people? We want to make walkability and bikability more inviting, just for overall movement," she said.
Logan said in 2014, NCH Healthcare System started looking into solutions to prevent chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity, so people could live better without crippling their wallets.
“You can either be at the river where people are drowning downstream and try and pull them out, or you can go upstream and try and prevent. And they really felt it was the hospital's role to do more prevention,” Logan said.
In 2015, NCH sponored the Blue Zones Project to come to Southwest Florida. Since, Logan said more than 780 organizations in our area have joined in their mission.
"So they're implementing best practices in their infrastructure, whether that's a restaurant, a grocery store, a work site, homeowner's association, schools,” Logan said.
She said the goal of the Blue Zones Project is that a person living in Southwest Florida is employed at a workplace that's engaged so healthier choices are easier. That their children go to a school that's adopted principles with health in mind. That their homeowner's association where they live has built the community to be walkable and bikable. And that the restaurants they go to offer Blue Zones-approved menu options. Then she hopes all of that is brought home with them.
“How well we live doesn't depend so much on our genetic code as it does our zip code. Genetics plays a role, but our zip code, where we live, and the environment that either supports our well-being or doesn't, makes a big impact," Logan said.