Dan Buettner and his team of scientists went around the world to find the secrets of the so-called “Blue zones,” five areas where people live measurably longer lives and healthier lives longer. From this research they found nine behaviors these five places had in common.
By following these nine behaviors we might all live healthier and longer lives. In Albert Lea, the findings have been put to the test. Among the changes: a sidewalk loop was built, a food psychology expert consulted with restaurants and residents, a dietitian worked with grocery stores to label “longevity” foods and schools to change their lunch menus, and a motivational speaker led seminars to encourage participants to follow their pursuits and passions. In short, the community committed to a system-wide change in order to encourage individual change.
It seems that whether or not health care reform will happen is anyone’s guess, so why not brace for the worst by doing our best to reduce the need for health care? Health Partners recently concluded a study of employers and found that the rising cost of employee health care is a major reason for holding back business expansion. In the survey, 71 percent of employers said that workers’ poor health habits were driving costs up.
We focus so much time and energy on slowing the growth of cost through reforming health care policy, but perhaps not enough time is spent on reforming our behavior to decrease the demand for services.
Albert Lea proved that change can be done easily and successfully if we approach it on a community level as well as an individual level. The participants in the project experienced an average weight loss of 2.8 lbs and an increased life expectancy of 2.9 years, and in the process of participating in the project new friends were made as was a stronger sense of community.
More cities, towns, neighborhoods, and communities should look to Albert Lea to see how they too can become physically healthier and slow the growth in health care spending. And who knows, perhaps successful reform in health care can finally be achieved if we manage to slightly reduce cost and demand for services.