Algona is first U.S. small community Blue Zone

ALGONA – Algona has become the first small community in the United States to be designated a Blue Zones community.

The Blue Zones Project, a Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield effort, in collaboration with Healthways, is intended to help communities improve residents’ well-being by making healthy choices easier.

“We are super proud of Algona for leading the way for all smaller communities across the country, not just only Iowa, and really grabbing a hold of the concepts of changing a built environment and making the healthy choice the easy choice,” Jenny Weber, Wellmark community health consultant for the Blue Zones Project, said. “We just couldn’t be more thrilled for them.”

Algona was first announced as a Blue Zones demonstration site in October 2012, but efforts toward becoming a Blue Zones community began before that, Nancy Clark, Algona Blue Zones Project local coordinator, said.

“We started with sending in an application, and then we didn’t get accepted in the first round because they chose the larger communities. But then they had such a great turnout that I think they decided to choose some of the small communities, as well,” she said.

The community is proud of its achievement, Clark said.

“We are just elated,” she said. “We followed the blueprint and it took a lot of volunteers and it took a lot of teamwork, and I think Algona is just a goal-minded community that worked together in order to achieve that. Our buttons are popping.”

To become a Blue Zone community, the Algona team had to look at six sectors: schools, grocery stores, restaurants, work sites, community policy and individuals. Each sector was asked to make small changes toward improving the community’s physical, mental and social well-being.

“For instance, 20 percent of the individuals in Algona were asked to sign a personal pledge and then complete an action step,” Clark said. “And that could be as simple as looking at your kitchen and changing the size of your plates to a 10-inch plate, or walking your dog. Just, simple pledges, small changes, that could make for a little healthier person.”

The team received 978 individual pledges to complete one action step, as well as achieving milestones for each sector.

According to Weber, it’s the communities that benefit most from having the certification.

“Over time, you’re going to see the healthy choice become the expectation,” she said. “You’re going to see a tipping point where work sites and schools and community policy and restaurants are going to really put well-being at the forefront of their mission. Essentially, Algona will be able to say, ‘This is the expectation here. Healthy choices are easier in Algona. Well-being is at the forefront in Algona.'”

The Algona Blue Zones team is already looking toward the future, Clark said, with plans to expand city recreation trails and programs such as the walking school bus.

“We have written our blueprint for the coming year and so we’re looking at more of those goals,” Clark said. “We’re really trying to continue on with this and always trying to get more people involved, and just making Algona a healthier, happier place to live, which I think we all want.”