In the Zone 1

The Blue Zones Project works with Fort Worth city leaders and community members
to create a healthier city.

In select cities around the world, people have engaged in habits that lead to longer, happier and more healthful lives. Whether through tradition or broad-based communal effort, these cities set an example for others and point the way towards a global re-evaluation of lifestyle choices. National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner identified these habits in his book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.

A New York Times bestseller, the book emphasizes nine traits shared across these areas, and helped launch a public health initiative to encourage these practices elsewhere. The Blue Zones Project exists to help cities around the world facilitate better lifestyle choices. Fort Worth, the largest Blue Zones Project thus far, has embraced its five-year challenge with open arms.

A wide scale collaborative effort between Texas Health Resources, the City of Fort Worth and Chamber of Commerce, the Blue Zones Project can already count dozens of area businesses as enthusiastic partners. The story of its work in Fort Worth speaks volumes about the holistic nature of Blue Zone’s mission, as well as city leadership’s commitment to wellbeing.

Suzanne Duda, who leads the Blue Zone Project’s efforts in Fort Worth, credits the local community for the advances made so far.

“Fort Worth city leaders learned of Blue Zones because of numerous other projects around the country,” says Suzanne. “The conversation happened organically. What makes Fort Worth great is the receptivity and desire among community leaders, who really want and understand the value of improving wellbeing throughout the city.”

Once contact was made, Texas Health Resources invited Blue Zones to perform an initial assessment of Fort Worth.

“The assessment was focused on determining whether the community as a whole, including business and civic leaders, felt like this was a worthwhile goal,” says Suzanne. “A critically important criterion that drew Blue Zones here was that we have an incredible champion in Mayor Betsy Price.”

Mayor Price’s passion for healthfulness had inspired changes before Blue Zone’s arrival. The groundwork thus laid, the Blue Zones Project named Fort Worth as its largest-to-date demonstration site. The project kicked off a five year process towards full certification as a Blue Zones community. An incremental journey achieved through raised awareness and improved business practices, the Blue Zones Project has already begun to accomplish changes throughout Fort Worth.

“Since we kicked off the project publicly in February, we’ve had an enormous amount of receptivity and community participation,” says Suzanne. “There are now dozens of local businesses, employers, restaurants, grocery stores and schools that we work with to encourage change.”

The changes that Blue Zones encourages are intended to make healthy choices easier. For example, an employer might choose to cater a luncheon with healthy foods, or hold standing meetings. Restaurants might remove salt-shakers from tables or provide smaller plates for entrees.

“We work one-on-one with businesses to consider which practices make sense,” says Suzanne. “We walk with them hand-in-hand through the process, and as businesses adopt healthy practices, we acknowledge them and tally points toward Blue Zone approval.”

As for the benefits of Blue Zone approval, business owners can count them in spades. The improved wellbeing of employees brings greater focus and higher performance, and reduces health-related costs. Restaurants and stores benefit from the Blue Zones Project’s promotional efforts, which range from advertisements to buying guides. Jay Coates, owner of the Blue Zones-approved Pegaso, has experienced these benefits firsthand.

“Blue Zones has a very loyal following,” says Jay. “Once we joined up, we had people we had never seen before coming in solely because we were a Blue Zones restaurant. They are a fantastic partner to tie your name to, and they’re a great organization.”

Pegaso, which serves authentically delicious Mexican dishes in a casual setting, showcases how easy it is to promote healthy living.

“Mexican food is historically healthy,” says Jay. “We try to refer back to its origins, so our grease isn’t trans-fat, there are no GMOs in our corn, and everything is fresh. As for our employees, their culture is a healthy one, and they have active lifestyles. I’ve learned a lot from them as far as healthy practices go.”

Another Blue Zones partner, Fiesta Mart on 8th Avenue, integrated changes large and small in its pursuance of Blue Zones approval. Don Bersterman, Fiesta Mart’s director of area operations, was first approached by Lane Gallagher, a Fiesta shopper who works with the Blue Zones Project.

“I found the Blue Zones Project very intriguing, and thought it would be good for our shoppers and everyone who lives in Fort Worth,” says Don. “We had a couple meetings to learn about the program and what we had to do to get certification, and then Blue Zones came out and helped us.”

The most visible change at Fiesta was the dedication of an entire checkout lane to Blue Zones-approved items. Instead of sodas and candy, shoppers will find waters, healthy snacks and a rack of produce. Fiesta Mart also raised signage and educated employees to help shoppers make healthy choices.

“Customers started noticing,” says Don. “They started asking questions and thought it was a good idea. People from all spectrums of society are eating and being healthy, and that’s a good thing.”

The impact on Mr. Bersterman himself characterizes the wide-ranging effects that the Blue Zones Project can achieve.

“The whole Blue Zones concept got me thinking about my own lifestyle,” says Don. “I started to eat better and began running, and within three months lost 23 pounds.”

Involvement in the Blue Zones Project’s initiatives is not limited to stores and restaurants. The project also practices outreach and hosts workshops throughout Fort Worth.

“Our Purpose Workshops are two-hour sessions where people come together to think about what’s important in their lives, what their gifts are and how to use them in the future,” says Suzanne Duda. “We also offer cooking demonstrations and walking groups, and help community members make healthful changes throughout their own homes.”

As the Blue Zones Project’s work continues, those of us who live in Fort Worth can look forward to a future where the healthiest choices are also the easiest to make. For more information about Blue Zone’s efforts, approved businesses and a schedule of free events, visit FortWorth.BlueZonesProject.com.