Blue Zone: Plans to make Immokalee healthier

It seems that everything in life just keeps getting more and more complicated. But in health care, the Blue Zone Project is intended to bring good health down to its simplest, yet most effective, terms.

The program mainly reinforces the things the medical community (and your grandmother) have endorsed for years.

Naples Community Hospital Healthcare System President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Allen Weiss has been learning about the program for several years. Impressed, he set about bringing the concept to Collier County. He came to the September Immokalee InterAgency Council meeting to explain the Blue Zone to the many community partners who will be needed to make it a success. The meeting was held at the Workforce Center and it was a full house made up of most groups and organizations that serve Immokalee residents. They all came to learn how they can be a part in contributing to the health of Immokalee’s people.

Dr. Allen Weiss and Immokalee InterAgency Council Chairperson Araceli Gomez. (Immokalee Bulletin/Patty Brant)

Dr. Allen Weiss and Immokalee InterAgency Council Chairperson Araceli Gomez. (Immokalee Bulletin/Patty Brant)

Dr. Weiss had a rapt audience as he made important points about the state of American health including that over one-third of Americans are considered obese and some 30 million have diabetes.

Dr. Weiss said he has seen that a cultural approach to good health is working in numerous communities and wants Collier County to join their ranks.

The Blue Zone project makes it easier for people to make good choices by involving individuals, work sites, schools, restaurants, grocery stores and faith-based groups, and by implementing community policy to add infrastructure like sidewalks, bike lanes and so on.

The Blue Zones Project recognizes “The Power of 9” to lead people to a healthier life:

Move naturally: It’s not about pumping iron or running marathons. It’s just about getting up and moving – walking, riding bikes

Purpose: Have a sense of purpose to your life.

Down shift: Find ways to download stress

80 Percent rule: Stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full

Plant slant: Cut down on meat in your diet

Wine @ five: Drink in moderation

Belong: Attend faith-based services

Loved ones first: Keep aging parents and grandparents nearby, commit to a partner and invest in your children

Right tribe: Be part of the social circle that supports healthy behaviors

Dr. Weiss told the audience that hospitals are not “repair shops.” In fact one of the goals is to keep people out of the hospital, noting that five percent of the population creates 50 percent of the cost of health care. He added that “Health care costs are lower when well being is high.”

The USA ranks 27th in world health, he told the group, adding, “We can do better”

When the Blue Zone comes to Immokalee, it will be with experience and a full complement of support groups, Dr. Weiss said, beginning with community leaders and faith-based organizations. First, Dr. Weiss noted, they must “get the trust and confidence of the people.”

The plan is to roll out the Blue Zone program in Naples at a major event November 14 at North Collier Regional Park 9-12:30 p.m., then take it to Bonita Springs. Immokalee will be the third Collier County community to become involved, followed by Golden Gate, East Naples and lastly Marco Island. The reason Immokalee is third on the list, Dr. Weiss said, is to allow Blue Zone partners to learn the process, work out any glitches and be ready to go forward.

Blue Zone is a comprehensive strategy that involves local schools, restaurants, markets, faith-based groups – all providing the necessary support to change unhealthy lifestyles.

Licensed social worker and retired outreach manager for the Shelter for Abused Women & Children Lucy Ortiz hoped they could step up the time line for Immokalee.

Immokalee InterAgency Council Chairperson Araceli Gomez noted some of the obstacles ethnicity presents in such a plan and questioned how Immokalee’s mixed status families could be included and Dr. Weiss replied that they will have to work to get them in the system and then insured. He added that the Blue Zone program is intended to involve all cultures and that it is concerned about the disparities aggravate access to health care. However, he noted that he is not an expert on the social and psychological barriers that might present themselves.

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