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Blue Zones Project

Herald Staff Writer

While Clinton County ranked near the bottom of the list for the County Health Rankings released last week, local health officials are not accepting defeat.

Clinton County Community Health Manager Michelle Cullen submitted a community health assessment to improve the health of Clinton residents as part of the Healthy Iowans Health Improvement plan for 2012 through 2016.

“All 99 local health departments completed their own community health assessments,” Cullen said. “After the Iowa Department of Public Health received all 99 community health assessments they then put it into a state document to be used as a blueprint for Iowa.”

Iowa’s Health Improvement Plan, released in late March, focuses on 39 critical health needs and provides a blueprint for addressing them. Healthy Iowans builds on health planning that is already taking place by numerous private and public sector organizations across the state. Iowa’s Health Improvement Plan provides a starting point to identify strategies and initiatives that are addressing critical health needs. The plan is intended to be a flexible document that will be updated annually to reflect new and changed strategies and to monitor  progress in meeting the plan’s goals.    

The 39 critical health needs identified through the Healthy Iowans process were selected after careful analysis of locally identified health needs, recommendations from private and public organizations and advisory groups, state data, and national resource information.

In addition, overarching themes that impact health status were considered. These overarching themes include social and built environments like access to affordable and healthy foods, special populations including race and ethnicity, and the life cycle featuring life stages and age. They provide additional context from which to assess progress in addressing the critical health needs.

 Cullen gathered input in 2011 from around 30 community partners for Clinton County’s assessment, which focused on three different objectives. Increasing the medical community awareness of prescription drug abuse by 85 percent by June 2015 was one of their main goals. The assessment included strategies and progress for achieving the goals. Surveys are being used as a way to measure the medical community’s progress. Clinton’s medical community was surveyed on its awareness of prescription drug abuse and use of prescription drug monitoring program prior to starting an education session and will take a post survey at the end of the goal period.

Another goal is to decrease or maintain the Body Mass Index of 200 students in the class of 2022 in Clinton County by 2015. School nurses started tracking the BMI of first-graders in the Clinton School District in the spring of 2011 and will continue to track the students for 5 years. Healthy Lifestyle Coalition has been working with the local Blue Zones Project Committee to promote available opportunities in the county for physical activity and healthy eating that help development habits for a healthy lifestyle, thus helping decrease BMI. Letters have been sent to community schools to encourage participation in “Go the Distance Day,” a statewide event that incorporates exercise into schools.

The third goal of the county’s health assessment is to maintain or decrease the number of subsequent pregnancies in women younger than 20 by 2015. Statistics have been collected at Mercy Medical Center in Clinton to gauge the number of births that fall under this criteria. Gateway Impact Coalition is working on a survey to find what services currently are in the community and who is providing them. In the last year, several grants have run out and several have changed agencies. The county plans to create a social marketing campaign that promotes abstinence from substance abuse as a way to avoid unplanned sex and its consequences.

“The document addresses gaps in our community and definitely supports the Blue Zones projects,” Cullen said.

Cullen, Mercy Medical Wellness Coordinator Andrea Barnett, Hyvee Dietitian Beth Freehill and YWCA Director Lori Freudenberg form the Clinton Blue Zones Committee. The group has been busy planning events and implementing health initiatives to position Clinton as a Blue Zones community.

The Blue Zones Project is a collaboration of Wellmark and Healthways to improve the well-being of Iowa communities. The project will be completed by applying the learnings and research from Blue Zones, Healthways and Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Blue Zones employs evidence-based ways to help people live longer, better lives.

Three to four Iowa communities will be selected as demonstration sites in May to participate in a community transformation effort to make permanent environment and policy changes to improve the emotional, physical and social health of their residents.

The recent low county health rankings are not a reason to feel discouraged, but motivation to change, according to Barnett.

 “I think we need to focus on the positives of these results,” Barnett said. “We have an increase in access to recreational facilities and there was a decrease in the percent of adult smokers.”

There weren’t significant decreases in the measures of the rankings to lead to the move downward.

  “We are not seeing huge decreases in our health outcomes to reflect the drop in our ranking. I think the reality is that other counties are making improvements and getting healthier,” Barnett said. “This is a perfect example of how becoming a Blue Zones demonstration site would break our stagnate results and create a fresh sense of healthy initiatives for our population.”

The Blue Zones demonstration sites selected will be announced May 4. To pledge support for the project visit or text BZP to 772937. For more information, check out the Clinton Blue Zones Project Facebook page or

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