Blue Zones Project and Healthy Petaluma join forces

The nationwide health initiative known as the Blue Zones Project has officially come to Petaluma, joining forces with health care district Healthy Petaluma in order to help local residents live longer, happier lives.

To discuss the project, leaders of the initiative hosted a well-attended event at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Petaluma campus, where they announced plans for a multi-year collaboration with Healthy Petaluma.

“This initiative aligns perfectly with our values as a community, and we are excited to work within our vast network of community partnerships and residents to make Petaluma a healthier, happier, and more connected place to live,” said Mayor Kevin McDonnell prior to the June 27 launch event.

The city got its first look at the Blue Zones Project in May 2022, when initiative leaders said they were conducting a “readiness assessment” to learn about the state of the city’s overall health and well-being.

Now, armed with more data, they plan to transform Petalumans’ lifestyles and environments in order to improve their longevity.

“We, along with a coalition of community partners, believe the program’s evidence-based approach is a great fit to measurably improve Petaluma’s well-being, resilience, and economic vitality, particularly after the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Healthy Petaluma CEO Ramona Faith, a key player in bringing the initiative here.

Faith said that after learning about the Blue Zones model years ago, and speaking with other communities that have engaged with the group, she and her staff pursued the opportunity for Petaluma.

“Blue zones” is a concept that describes areas of the world that are known to be the healthiest all around, with more people reaching the age of 100 and beyond. Examples of such places include Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece and – perhaps surprisingly – Loma Linda in Southern California.

Researcher and National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner became fascinated with such places, and vowed to bring their secrets elsewhere to improve health and wellness for all. And so the Blue Zones Project was born.

Since their arrival last year, leaders from the initiative as well as from Healthy Petaluma – until recently known as the Petaluma Healthcare District – have conducted an in-depth analysis of factors contributing to Petaluma residents’ health outcomes. The initial assessment was funded by the local health district.

Their assessment ultimately found that, despite trending healthier than the national average, “one out of two Petaluma residents are overweight or obese, two out of three are struggling with their health, and two out of five experience regular financial stress.”

“These and other key reports of well-being confirmed the district’s understanding that there are growing disparities among residents, particularly in youth, physical, and mental well-being,” initiative leaders said in a news release. “Blue Zones Project Petaluma will open doors for the community to prioritize and tackle issues at policy, environmental, and social levels.”

Through workshops and engagement with schools, local businesses, food vendors and other avenues, as well as the establishment of targeted policies and wellness programs, Blue Zones seeks to help residents attain the lifestyle habits that most increase likelihood of living longer.

Such goals include increased motion and movement, living with purpose, reducing stress, preventing overeating, eating more beans and other plant-based protein, drinking in moderation, and improving family and social life.

Other specific ways the Blue Zones group hopes to increase good health in Petaluma includes working with local grocers and farms to increase access to healthy foods and snacks, and limit easy access to junk foods.

The exact methods and policies are not expected to be announced until early next year, program leaders said.

“We are working, collectively, to make the healthy choices the easy choices,” said Nichole Warwick, executive director of the Blue Zones Petaluma initiative, during the June event.

“This will benefit our families and communities long after we are gone. That’s why this is my soul work – I get to work in community, with you, creating a legacy of health and well-being that affects everyone.”

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