Guest Columnist

Blue Zones Project leaves lasting impact

Then-Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett (center) cuts a blue ribbon at the Blue Zones Worksite designation ceremony at Color Web Printers in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (Justin Wan/The Gazette)
Then-Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett (center) cuts a blue ribbon at the Blue Zones Worksite designation ceremony at Color Web Printers in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (Justin Wan/The Gazette)

I am proud to have played a role in Cedar Rapids’ journey to become a certified Blue Zones Community — the largest community in Iowa to be selected for and achieve this important milestone.

As a member of the Iowa Blue Zones Project team, and now working with the national Blue Zones Project team in communities across the country, I’ve been able to contribute to and experience the growth and success of this project in Iowa and beyond.

Cedar Rapids has come together to rebuild from a historic flood as a city focused on well-being, using policy as a catalyst to transform the community with a focus on healthy foods and active living. As we come to the close of our Blue Zones Project work in Cedar Rapids and other Iowa communities, I want to take a moment to celebrate and reflect.

From 2010 to 2015, Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index results show Iowans outpaced the nation in overall well-being, improving at twice the rate of the national average. Cedar Rapids saw a nearly six percent increase in fruit and vegetable consumption thanks to improved access and a local food revolution that included community gardens, school gardens and urban agriculture. Cedar Rapids also saw an increase in the number of people exercising, and a decline in obesity rates.

Cedar Rapids benefitted from hundreds of dedicated volunteers who invested in the future of their community. I want to thank each person who contributed, and especially our dedicated teammates who made the initiative so successful.

More than 30,000 residents pledged support for the project and to improve their well-being. Cedar Rapids had more than 110 organizations become Blue Zones Project Approved, including 57 worksites. Nearly a third of local restaurants became approved, and 40 percent of schools were named Blue Zones Project Approved schools.

Cedar Rapids boasts the state’s first green bike lanes, an innovative approach to street design and safety that sends a clear message that Cedar Rapids is a bicycle-friendly community. Residents believe in this approach, and passed a ten-year local-option sales tax that will generate $180 million for projects like the bike lanes. As exercise levels begin to increase and obesity levels start to decrease, it’s evident the community is moving more.


Cedar Rapids supports local food through an urban-agriculture ordinance that allows food to be grown on all land. In 2015, 325 garden plots were plowed on city-owned properties. Fresh fruit can be picked at Noelridge Park, where students took the classroom outdoors to plant trees and learn in a unique way. Eighteen schools now offer gardens that enhance curriculum and increase food skills.

The foundation of well-being built in Cedar Rapids and each of the Iowa Blue Zones Project communities is one that will last. Blue Zones Project initiatives do not rely on individual will, overnight changes or 30-day challenges, but on policy and system changes to shift toward healthier options where we live, work, and play.

Impressive gains have been made in Cedar Rapids, and I believe we will continue to reap the benefits of the long-lasting changes put in place during Blue Zones Project. We look forward to following your community’s continued success and are very proud of the foundation we built together.

• Shannon Draayer has been implementations manager for the Blue Zones Project for more than five years.


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