Decorah is among nine Iowa communities named a Blue Zones demonstration site.

The announcement was made this week by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Healthways.

These communities are the first with populations of less than 10,000 citizens to be named. In addition to Decorah, they include: Algona, Audubon, Fairfield, Harlan, Osage, Red Oak, Spirit Lake and Woodbine.

These communities join Cedar Falls, Mason City, Spencer and Waterloo, which were named in May as the first Blue Zones Project demonstration site communities in Iowa with populations greater than 10,000 citizens.



Year-long effort

"We've been working on Blue Zones projects for almost a year now, said Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce Director Nikki Brevig, one of the co-chairs of Decorah's Blue Zones core leadership team.

"Many different groups have gotten together and a lot of great conversation happened. We were waiting for the small city demonstration sites selection and were glad to be picked."

She said there was strong attendance at a Blue Zones site visit last month and that Blue Zones officials were impressed by all the health-related projects and programs already happening in the community.

"I look forward to what we can do to enhance that and make us an even healthier community ... I'm hoping being a Blue Zone demonstration site can propel that into action for further opportunities for our community," Brevig said.

The next step in the process will be to convene Decorah's core leadership team and meet with Blue Zone officials within the new few weeks, she said. Wellmark will have a coordinator that will help assist the community.

"We'll be able to utilize the knowledge and resources Wellmark can provide for the program," Brevig said.

She said the community likely won't see any activity until early next year.

"We'll be working behind the scenes looking at what we can do to get ready," she said.



Larger city finalists

In addition to the small communities that will officially begin their journey toward improved well-being, 12 Iowa communities with populations of more than 10,000 citizens are moving forward in the selection process to become Blue Zones Project demonstration sites.

These communities submitted applications in August in the second and final selection round for communities of this size, and all have been deemed qualified to progress as finalists. They include the cities of: Altoona, Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Davenport, Dubuque, Iowa City, Marion, Muscatine, Ottumwa, Oskaloosa and Sioux City.

"When we first announced that Wellmark would bring the Blue Zones Project to Iowa, we were overwhelmed by the interest from across the state and delighted to be able to capture that enthusiasm by adding a focused strategy for smaller communities," said Wellmark Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Forsyth.

"By combining the large community approach with a pathway tailored specifically to meet the needs of smaller communities, we are confident we will see sustainable improvement in the well-being of all Iowans."



Assistance

The selected communities will receive assistance from experts to develop and implement a blueprint for making permanent environmental, social and policy changes that transition people into healthier behaviors that can lead to longer, happier lives.

The Blue Zones Project is based on Blue Zones principles developed by Dan Buettner and is the centerpiece of the Healthiest State Initiative to make Iowa the healthiest state by 2016 as measured by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index®, the first-ever daily assessment of U.S. residents' health and well-being.

Blue Zones Project employs evidence-based ways to help people live longer, better lives by taking a systematic, environmental approach to well-being, which focuses on optimizing policy, social networks and the built environments where we spend our time.

The progress of the demonstration site communities will also be measured using the Well-Bein