Welcome to National Public Health Week. A time we take to focus and address issues that affect individuals and communities at large. This year we have a variety of themes provided by the American Public Health Association to continue to create and build the healthiest nation. Today’s theme is Healthy Communities.
A healthy community is a community that empowers all residents to experience a good quality of life (Community Tool Box, 2018). One aspect of quality of life is life expectancy. Life expectancy in America is far below that of other developed nations. In 2016, the life expectancy in the U.S. was 78.5 years old, compared 84.2 in Japan, 83.3 in Switzerland and 83.1 in Spain (World Health Organization, 2018). Why is it that some countries live longer than others?
Dan Buettner, a national geographic writer and explorer have discovered and studied places in the world where people live the longest. These areas are referred to as Blue Zones or regions of the world that have the most Centenarians. Three discovered Blue Zones are Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan and Loma Linda, California. Through Buettner’s studies of Blue Zones, we can learn not only what makes people live longer, but what makes people live longer without disease (Buettner, 2009).
Sardina, Itlay was the first Blue Zone Discovered in 2004. This island has 10 percent more centenarians than the United States. Residents eat a plant-based diet, grow, fish and hunt their food. In addition, most of the population spends the day moving, elders are celebrated and families are put first (Blue Zones Project, 2019).
Okinawa, Japan is home to a Blue Zone where people live the longest without disease (Beuttner, 2009). In this community, rates of colon cancer, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease are significantly less than in America. The plant-based diet is common and the people are not only conscious about what they eat but how much they eat. Residents use strategies to keep themselves from overeating such as smaller plates and putting the food away before it is consumed. Those in this community also have a strong community support system (Beuttner, 2009).
Only one Blue Zone has been discovered in American and it is in Loma Linda, California. Amongst the Seventh Day Adventists population in Loma Linda, life expectancy for women is nine years longer than the average American and life expectancy for men is 11 years longer than the average American man. A defining characteristic of this community is the Sabbath, 24 hours every week that is dedicated to God, community and walking in nature. Residents in this community also have a strong sense of purpose (Beuttner, 2009).
What makes these Blue Zones three of the healthiest areas in the world is natural exercise or movement throughout the day, a sense of purpose, community, a primarily plant-based diet and faith (Blue Zones Project, 2019). When thinking about your community, what can you learn from the Blue Zones? How can you encourage people to move more each day without thinking about it? How can you increase the number of healthy food choices available? How can you bring people together?
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- Beuttner, Dan. (2009, September). How to Live to Be 100+ [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_buettner_how_to_live_to_be_100?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare
- Blue Zones Project. 2019. Blue Zones Project. Retrieved from https://www.bluezonesproject.com/
- Community Tool Box. 2018. Section 3. Healthy Cities/ Healthy Communities. Retrieved from https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/overview/models-for-community-health-and-development/healthy-cities-healthy-communities/main
- World Health Organization. 2018. Life expectancy and Health life expectancy Data by country. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/gho/data/view.main.SDG2016LEXv?lang=en