Fort Worth aims high for health, despite beefy menus

Posted Monday, Jul. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Cowtown wants to adopt the habits of cities around the world whose residents live longest.

Unfortunately, high beef consumption isn’t a common trait of these cities.

High bean consumption is, but not of the refried variety.

Still, Fort Worth has plenty going for it.

The city’s government, civic and business heavyweights crowded into a room Monday at the Fort Worth Club to hear a presentation from author and explorer Dan Buettner, whose company Blue Zones aims to identify and share practices that help people live longer and happier.

Healthy habits, Buettner reminded the audience, can drive up happiness, longevity and productivity — and drive down healthcare costs.

The show of support is a good sign that Fort Worth might be ready to participate in Buettner’s Blue Zones program, he said. Blue Zones, according to Buettner, are places with the greatest life expectancy and the most residents living to 100.

Mayor Betsy Price, an avid cyclist, said Blue Zones could have generations worth of impact for the city.

“Fort Worth would be on the cutting edge with this project,” she said.

Texas Health Resources got things started on the Blue Zones project, spending $500,000 to fund a two-week assessment of Fort Worth’s readiness for the project.

Assuming that the city clears that hurdle, Blue Zones would collaborate with various Fort Worth entities to implement a citywide wellness program.

Teaming with the National Geographic Society, Buettner has identified five areas worldwide with high numbers of centenarians: Sardinia; Okinawa; the southern California city of Loma Linda; Ikaria, Greece; and Nicoya, Costa Rica.

What they have in common: physical and social activity, high vegetable and low meat consumption, strong family ties and friendships, strong sense of purpose and strong connections to faith-based communities, Buettner said.

“You see the same trends over and over again,” he said.

People in these communities are active as a matter of routine, not exercise, Buettner said. Inexpensive, high-fiber, high-protein staples such as beans take the place of meat in diets, and meal portions are smaller. Statistically, moderate drinkers outlived nondrinkers.

Of 250 100-year-olds interviewed, only five didn’t belong to faith communities, Buettner said. Blue Zones tied Loma Linda’s high numbers of centenarians to the community’s strong Seventh-day Adventist presence.

“In every case, longevity was not pursued; it ensued,” Buettner said of Blue Zones’ overall findings.

Blue Zones’ program has been implemented in several U.S. cities and the entire state of Iowa.

After several changes in Albert Lea, Minn., where Blue Zones worked with restaurants to emphasize healthy choices, participants in community programs lost a total of 12,000 pounds.

In schools, Blue Zones suggests policies such as barring eating in hallways and classrooms to cut down on snacking.

With restaurants, Blue Zones suggests subtle changes such as not serving starchy bread unless asked and offering fries only on the side.

That could be a challenge in Fort Worth’s chain-dominated restaurant scene, Buettner acknowledged.

One criterion of Blue Zones certification, which Fort Worth would be shooting for, is 25 percent of local restaurants signing on, Buettner said.

Fort Worth already has recent experience putting pieces in place for a healthy community.

Price has been engaging citizens through community bike rides, walking town halls and the Fit Worth initiative. Her SteerFW young leaders group has worked with Fort Worth schools to revamp the menu at DeZavala Elementary School in Fairmount.

Fort Worth also recently won a Safe Communities America designation from the World Health Organization's Collaborating Centre on Community Safety Promotion, signifying the city’s initiatives to lower injuries.

“From a marketing standpoint, it’s a huge opportunity,” Bill Thornton, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s president, said during Monday’s kickoff. “From a health standpoint, it’s a huge opportunity.”

Barclay Berdan, Texas Health senior vice president and chief operating officer, offered a few key statistics to get the Fort Worth Club crowd juiced up: Poor health costs $17 billion annually in lost productivity in Dallas-Fort Worth, he said, with “health behaviors” causing the bulk of those problems.

Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808 Twitter:@jscottnishimura

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