Blue Zone family
In October 2014, Collier County (as well as South Lee County) became a part of the Blue Zones Project, which is sponsored by the NCH Healthcare System. The Blue Zones Project encourages healthy living principles among the residents and businesses of Southwest Florida. It is a community-centered program that seeks to create a common goal among our residents: the pursuit of longevity through healthy, fulfilling lifestyle choices.
What, exactly, is a Blue Zone? Research conducted by National Geographic magazine pinpointed five regions of the world where people live to be centenarians at higher-than- average rates. These regions include Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; and Okinawa, Japan. The residents of these regions had nine lifestyle commonalities that have been dubbed the “Power 9.”
Here in Collier County, the Blue Zones Project’s local staff (established and funded by NCH) continues to meet with area businesses and community groups to garner support for the project. “Blue Zones Project is a national, community well-being improvement initiative, designed to help people live longer and happier lives, with lower rates of chronic disease and a higher quality of life,” says Allen S. Weiss, M.D., president and chief executive officer of NCH Healthcare System.
As the Blue Zones Project and NCH seek to accomplish these goals, they have recently gained school board approval to pilot an education-based initiative called The Blue Zones School Pledge in four schools in Naples: Sea Gate Elementary School, Lake Park Elementary School, Gulf View Middle School, and Naples High School. The goal is for these four schools, and eventually all Collier County Public schools, to be designated as Blue Zone Schools. This designation involves collecting a certain number of points, which can be earned through a variety of school-wide policies and programs.
At each school, a wellness team, which includes staff and parent representatives, will work with the principal to decide which initiatives to implement. The Blue Zones Project team then will help the wellness teams determine how to measure progress. The Blue Zones Project staff has been invited by each of the schools to attend various staff and parent meetings to educate and provide input.
Possible wellness initiatives include making healthy options more prevalent in school cafeterias, school-wide policies limited specific types of snacks and drinks during the school day, limitations on the use of vending machines, and discontinuing the use of food as rewards and physical activity as consequences/punishments. And many of these policies already are in place in schools across Collier County. For example, schools are not able to use food-based fundraisers; additionally, the school district already purchases locally grown produce for use in cafeterias, and many schools have community gardens on site.
The Blue Zones Project initiative will roll out in six phases over the course of several years, eventually affecting all Collier County public schools. Parents can expect to see changes in individual school’s activities, as well as system-wide policy and procedure changes.