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A Powerful Coalition of Organizations, Including Area Hospitals and Nonprofits, Unite to Launch Blue Zones Project in Jacksonville

Published: June 3, 2022

The City of Jacksonville and a coalition of community partners announce the launch of Blue Zones Project in Jacksonville to help residents live better, longer lives. Blue Zones Project is a comprehensive initiative that transforms the environments where people live, work, learn, and play to measurably improve community well-being, resilience, and economic vitality.

Blue Zones Project in Jacksonville is supported by a strong coalition of public and private partners: Baptist Health, Brooks Rehabilitation, the City of Jacksonville, Florida Blue, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jessie Ball duPont Fund, Mayo Clinic in Florida, UF Health Jacksonville, and United Way of Northeast Florida.

"The introduction of the Blue Zones Project in Jacksonville is going to be nothing short of life-changing and life-saving. The Blue Zones Project has proven that access to quality resources and aid can have lasting, crucial health benefits," said Mayor Lenny Curry. "The City of Jacksonville is proud to be a part of the coalition launching the Blue Zones Project in some of our most vulnerable areas. We remain committed to improving the health and quality of life of citizens in our underserved communities."

Baptist Health funded the initial Blue Zones Activate assessment, during which the Blue Zones team did a deep dive into the city to determine if it was feasible to launch a community-wide initiative. “Building a healthier, happier Jacksonville means expanding efforts outside hospital walls, and Blue Zones Project provides a proven upstream solutions model for improving community well-being that is sustainable, collaborative, and can help reduce disparities,” said Baptist Health CEO Michael Mayo. “We are so excited to join forces with this high-impact coalition of hospitals and organizations already doing incredible work and programming in Jacksonville. By coming together, we can achieve true population and systems change for the good of the entire city.”

Blue Zones Project is a first-of-its-kind population health initiative based on research and principles developed by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author who identified the cultures of the world—or blue zones—with the healthiest, longest-living populations.

Research shows that where people live has a bigger influence on their health than their genetics, so Blue Zones focuses on the Life Radius®—the area close to home where people spend 90% of their lives. Blue Zones Project works with communities to optimize public policies, social connections, and the places and spaces where people spend the most time (streets, parks, schools, workplaces, grocery stores, faith communities, homes) to help make healthy choices easy and more accessible to all. Participating communities have seen double-digit drops in obesity and smoking rates, economic investment in downtown corridors, grant funding awards to support policies and programs to improve health equity, and measurable savings in healthcare costs. The pilot city, Albert Lea, Minnesota, raised life expectancy by 3 years and lowered healthcare costs for city workers by 40 percent.

Darnell Smith, Market President for Florida Blue said: “We are keenly aware that a person’s zip code helps define their health outcomes. GuideWell/Florida Blue is excited about the possibilities of working with Blue Zones, Baptist Health, and other community partners to help improve the health outcomes of many of our neighbors, especially in the underserved neighborhoods. This partnership will allow a critical mass of health-focused partners to operate with a shared vision toward improving health outcomes.”

“At Brooks Rehabilitation, we are proud to partner with other leading First Coast organizations on the Blue Zones Project,” said Doug Baer, Brooks Rehabilitation President and CEO. “Together we can create a healthier, more vibrant community and bring positive change in addressing disparities in our region.”

“The research-based, evidence-backed approach of Blue Zones has been proven in city after city, and we look forward to seeing our own results as Jaxsons become healthier and live longer. We also know that many of the Blue Zones interventions will make Jacksonville a better place to live, work, and play,” said Mari Kuraishi, President of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. “We are proud to join this powerful coalition of community leaders as we work toward a shared goal of making Jacksonville a place where everyone feels they belong.”

Over the next six years, local leadership and the Blue Zones team will launch and implement policy work and school initiatives across all of Duval County. Further, the Westside, Northside, and East Jax neighborhoods will undergo focused Blue Zones Life Radius transformation.

“At UF Health Jacksonville, not only are we committed to improving the lives of our patients, but we are also committed to improving the health of residents living in the community surrounding our downtown campus, which is the most populated area of Jacksonville's urban core,” said Russ Armistead, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville. “The Blue Zones Project was a perfect opportunity to further this commitment, and we’re proud to be a part of it. We look forward to the outcomes of this initiative that will hopefully benefit the health of the city for decades to come.”

“Many of the factors contributing to good health and a better, longer life are those that will help us break the cycle of poverty and create a community of opportunity in Northeast Florida,” said Robin Abbott, United Way’s chief financial officer and interim CEO. “We’re working toward a future where everyone has hope and can reach their full potential, regardless of the color of their skin or the zip code in which they were born. Our partnership with Blue Zones underscores that effort and will contribute to stronger, more inclusive outcomes for all members of our community.”

Whitney Meyer, Chief Community Impact Officer for the Jacksonville Jaguars, said: “The Blue Zones Project represents an important next step for the Jaguars in our long-term commitment to the Outeast community, right next door to TIAA Bank Field.  This unique approach to community-specific wellness programming will provide health care solutions to Outeast residents in the place they call home. The Jaguars are proud to join this coalition of community partners in promoting a healthier Jacksonville.”

"A different approach is needed to address the same pressing health issues that continue to afflict the area year after year. To achieve change, we must work together to support and create community-based programming and address wellness. It is also important that we recognize differences among populations as well as differences in priorities from stakeholders in this collaboration, including the community members. This comprehensive investment in Blue Zones, from health care systems and community organizations will allow us to enhance efforts and maximize resources to achieve our goal of improving the lives of the people in our community that have the greatest barriers to health. Mayo Clinic is pleased to be a part of this collaborative effort in our community,” said Kent Thielen, M.D., CEO, Mayo Clinic in Florida.

Ben Leedle, CEO of Blue Zones and co-founder of Blue Zones Project, said: “Jacksonville is blessed with a powerfully aligned civic leadership with the desire and drive to build a healthier, happier, and more productive community. The time is now to do something transformational to produce lasting results. With this influential and impressive coalition of partners, Blue Zones Project will be able to complement the community-building work already underway with actionable priorities and measures.”

The launch of Blue Zones Project in Jacksonville represents the beginning of a multi-year collaborative effort that involves the entire community working together towards one common goal – to support and build a culture of community health and well-being. The local implementation team will begin the leadership planning phase this month with a kickoff event to follow later in the year. Find more information about the Blue Zones Project Jacksonville at bluezones.com/bzpjacksonville.

About Blue Zones Project®

Blue Zones Project® is a community-led well-being improvement initiative designed to make healthy choices easier through permanent changes to a city’s environment, policy, and social networks. Blue Zones Project is based on research by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author who identified five cultures of the world—or blue zones —with the highest concentration of people living to 100 years or older. Blue Zones Project incorporates Buettner’s findings and works with cities to implement policies and programs that will move a community toward optimal health and well-being. Blue Zones launched the first pilot community in 2009 in Albert Lea, MN with groundbreaking results. Directly and also in partnership with Sharecare, the model has since been applied to more than 75 communities in the United States. Participating communities have experienced double-digit drops in obesity and tobacco use and have saved millions of dollars in healthcare costs. For more information, visit bluezones.com.

 


For more information, please contact:
UF Health Media Relations
904-244-3268