Thursday, July 21, 2016
Successful aging: Stats back up how Blue Zones has worked in the Beach Cities Health District

In 2010, a survey brought some serious lifestyle and health problems to our attention.

The Beach Cities communities of Hermosa, Manhattan and Redondo beaches had the nation’s highest levels of anger, stress and worry, on a par with post-Katrina New Orleans. Two out of three people were obese or overweight; one in five smoked.

This is not the image we have of Southern California’s sunny skies with fit bodies surfing, biking, playing volleyball and jogging.

Enter the Beach Cities Blue Zones Project, inspired by researcher Dan Buettner of National Geographic Magazine.

Beuttner was assigned to find the longest lived, healthiest people in the world. He and his team studied them and described their lifestyles. The lessons learned from that study and from the Blue Zones Project in Albert Lea, Minnesota, laid the groundwork for Beach Cities.

Their strategy was to make the healthy choice the easy choice. They didn’t nag people to exercise. Instead they worked with local governments to make walking easier and preferable to driving.

They made wholesome foods more available and less costly than junk foods. And they partnered with the stakeholders in the community including restaurants, work sites, schools and grocery stores with the collective goal of promoting healthy choices.

These partners implemented changes. For many, they were life changing.

Restaurants: More than 100 incorporated as many as six changes to produce a healthier eating environment. They offered smaller portions, reduced the use of unhealthy ingredients and modified adult and children menus for nutrition and more. For example, the Good Stuff restaurant provides discounts on healthy entrees and offers a 600-calorie option next to the normal 1,300-calorie one.

Employers: Among the top 20 companies, 14 implemented policies that favor health and well-being. Skechers changed its mission statement to include health and well-being of family members. A copy room was converted into an exercise room that doubles for health and nutrition classes.

Residents: More than 24,000 have taken the Blue Zone pledge to live longer, healthier lives. Not all were from the Beach Cities. (For the pledge see Thousands completed mindfulness and purpose workshops, joined walking and potluck groups and volunteered their time to the Blue Zone Project.

Walking school buses: Thirty-seven of these projects were established at a time when almost no students were walking to school. Today 25 percent of local students walk to school compared to 11 percent nationally. Children and parents meet at prescribed locations, eliminating thousands of car trips a year and providing children the opportunity to walk with good company, often multi-generational. They walk more than 423,000 miles a year, enough to circle the globe twice.

Cafeterias: One high school facility changed the order food was presented in the line. Vegetables were positioned at the beginning of the line, increasing the likelihood students grab them first. The salty snacks were placed in an inconvenient spot, lowering the consumption.

Schools: Six implemented programs that affected more than 3,400 students annually. The schools offered more health programs, campus gardens, guided mindfulness exercises and workshops on purpose and more.

City policies: Collectively, $8.1 million in transportation funding has been secured for livability projects, including a protected bike path. Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach adopted public smoking bans with the latter implementing a citywide smoke-free policy.

So what difference has this made? The new data says:

  • Daily stress has decreased nearly 10 percent.
  • Smoking has decreased from 17 percent, from 10.7 to 8.9 per cent, lower than the national level of 18.8 percent and state level of 13.7 percent.
  • Overweight dropped nine points to 50.8 percent as the national rate rose four points to 63.7 percent.
  • Residents who reported they were thriving in daily life rose eight points to 72 percent.
  • About 2,500 residents found their life’s purpose through community workshops and programs.

Overall in 2015, the beach cities have the highest Well-Being Index scores in the U.S. compared to 190 metropolitan areas. After the initial three-year program, the Beach Cities Health District opted to continue the initiative with a $1.1 million commitment.

Now in its sixth year, this program continues to achieve remarkable results.

Kudos to those dedicated leaders and their teams for making a miracle come alive. Let us all live long and well.

For more information, go to

Note: The Beach Cities is one of 16 certified Blue Zones Communities in the U.S.

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To view news article on Los Angeles Daily News, click here.