Officials: Blue Zone will encourage Iowa City residents to live healthier


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Often cited as a great place for businesses to prosper and families to grow, Iowa City is no stranger to recognition. After Wednesday morning’s announcement in Des Moines, the city can now add another peg to its wall of honors: It is now an official Blue Zones community.

At a news conference and reception held at the Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa City became one of six additional communities in the state — along with Sioux City, Cedar Rapids, Muscatine, Oskaloosa, and Marion — recognized for promoting healthy living, eating, and longevity.

The health-insurance company, which employs more than 1,700 people in Iowa, has donated $5 million toward the program each year since it began in 2011. The 19-city, privately funded program is a part of Gov. Terry Branstad’s Healthiest State Initiative, which aims at reducing obesity and making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.

Iowa City had been denied in the first round of selections for the program.

Nancy Quellhorst, Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce president & CEO, said she looks forward to the program enhancing the health and happiness of the community, citing improvements in educational opportunities, expanded trail systems, and healthier food served in school vending machines as possibilities.

“What we’re trying to do is make a landscape to provide gentle encouragement of healthy living,” she said. “Making the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Many Iowa City businesses operate under the model of sustainability, healthy living, and movement by offering organic, all-natural grocery varieties, fitness programs, and educational resources.

Bread Garden Market, 225 S. Linn St., is just one of the many locally owned businesses dedicated to improving the quality of life for not just its customers but its employees as well.

Store supervisor Kris Cass said the natural-food store had its own Blue Zones meeting Jan. 14, during which a number of improvements were discussed, including a push for employee exercise.

“Our employees actually receive a discount to Iowa City Fitness upstairs,” she said. “It’s not just about living to an old age but living to a healthy age.”

Cass said the store has plans to offer a monthly event to educate the public on eating and living well.
“It’s important to educate them,” she said. “Offer education with the food. As a business, if it helps us, great. But if it helps the community, then that’s even better.”

UI freshman Whitney Schommer said moving to Iowa City from a small town came with noticeable changes. Among those were evident in her day-to-day activities.

“Coming from a small town, there’s not a lot of walking or biking,” she said. “I would say that’s the biggest difference between my hometown and Iowa City. Here, people use walking and biking as not only ways of exercise but as modes of transportation as well.”

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