Blue Zones Project Communities’ Overall Greater Well-Being Leads to Stronger Economies
While Blue Zones Projects are associated with improved health outcomes and quality of life for residents of participating communities, the partnerships can also boost the local economies.
One of the clearest economic impacts of a Blue Zones transformation is how much money its project communities save on health care over time. When a region’s collective health increases, health care costs decrease, sometimes dramatically.When a region’s collective health increases, health care costs decrease, sometimes dramatically. Click To Tweet
The impact of healthier workplaces
Most Americans spend about half their waking life on the job, making workplaces a prime opportunity to encourage healthy lifestyles. The Blue Zone Project approach to transforming worksites is to offer a Blue Zones Approval program that implements a critical mass of initiatives that nudge employees into moving more, eating less junk food, making meaningful connections with coworkers, and helping people find and live out their purpose. As a part of this program Blue Zones Project Albert Lea experienced a 40 percent drop in city worker health care costs less than 10 years after the project began.
Employers in Albert Lea also saw an $8.6 million savings in annual health care costs due to the decline in smokers in the city, and a 300 percent increase in funds given to the city by its insurance carrier for its 2014 wellness program. Moreover, the city avoided medical premium increases for its workers in 2014 and 2015.
The Blue Zones Project region of Central Maui in Hawaii has outperformed state well-being trends since its baseline year of 2017, with 4.4 percent fewer health risks than expected if it followed statewide trends. This amounted to $1.24 million savings in medical and productivity costs from 2017 to 2019.
The Blue Zones Project in Fort Worth, Tex., also experienced significant health care savings. The city’s 2018 Well-Being Index rose to 62.5, up nearly four points in four years. For context, just a one-point increase correlates with a two percent reduction in hospital utilization and a one percent reduction in overall health-related costs, indicating Fort Worth’s improvements led to millions of dollars in health care savings.
What do these numbers look like in the office? Blue Zones Project Fort Worth participating employer, Texas Wesleyan University, expanded free access to their Morton Fitness Center to include faculty and staff, saving employees $125 per year. Another Fort Worth employer, Simpli.fi, saw employee turnover rates drop from 12.2 percent to 9.3 percent in just two years after implementing healthier workplace practices. These health and productivity benefits, and many others, reached a total of 70,000 employees at Blue Zones Project Approved worksites across Fort Worth.
Restaurants and grocers increase sales
Fort Worth’s hospitality industry has also increased its sales since partnering with Blue Zones. The city – known affectionately as “Cowtown” for its historic stockyards and its love of beef – seemed like it might be a challenging place to promote healthier eating habits.
Owners and managers at an old-school Texas steakhouse in the city, were skeptical at first when approached by Blue Zones. But their resistance softened when Blue Zones Project shared data with them showing how partner restaurants did well financially, sometimes better than before, by working with Blue Zones to add healthier options to their menus.
Leaders in Fort Worth were also persuaded to participate when they saw that the proposed new menu items wouldn’t mean significantly more work for their crews or higher shopping costs. “[Blue Zones Project] also convinced me it was worth a try when they said that groups could easily be swayed to go somewhere else if they had a vegetarian or health-conscious eater in their party,” said restaurant owner Paul McKinney.
McKinney’s sales dynamic has shifted dramatically for the better since participating. Customers’ orders of soda and sides of French fries dropped almost 60 percent, while their salad bar amounts to 70 percent of their lunch business, and their new salad bar and build-your-own-bowl catering options have proven to be customer pleasers as well.
Popular Fort Worth restaurant Taco Heads successfully added Blue Zones healthy options to their menu, and reaped the benefits. Two Blue Zones entrees make up 20 percent of the restaurant’s sales, while a Blue Zones pineapple cup with chili and lime has become Taco Heads’ most popular dessert.
Several restaurants and cafes in Wahiawa, Hawaii have experienced similar benefits after participating in Blue Zones Project Hawaii. A local Blue Zones Project Approved taco restaurant, Onos Loco Tacos, has seen a 75 percent increase in catering sales, largely from organizations that are also participating in Blue Zones Project. On the other side of Oahu at Surfer’s Coffees, the best-selling item in the cafe is from their Blue Zones menu.
In the Blue Zones Project Community of Klamath Falls, Ore., 12 Blue Zones Project Approved restaurants offered a combined 37 new healthier menu options for both adults and kids. A regionally owned grocery store saw an increase in demand for produce since the community partnered with Blue Zones, leading them to expand their produce section and boost fruit and vegetable sales by 12 percent. Similarly, in the Blue Zones Project region of Wahiawa, two local Foodland supermarkets saw increased sales of promoted healthy items as a result of their status as a Blue Zones Project Approved grocery store.
Local farmers supplying produce also benefit during a Blue Zones Project. In the Blue Zones Project region of West Hawaii, market channels for food producers expanded through the promotion of the SNAP program and partnerships with local food non-profits. In the first few years of Hawaii’s Blue Zones Project, $17,000 worth of fresh produce was bought from local farmers through non-profit partner, Da Bux, which increased SNAP users’ access to fresh, local produce while supporting farmers in the community.
Media mentions mean money
One of the hidden benefits of the Blue Zones Project is an increase in media mentions for the partner communities, which amounts to millions of dollars in free, positive advertising. Klamath Falls realized a $2.7 million advertising equivalency through its partnership, Fort Worth saw $4.4 million worth of media mentions and Central Maui enjoyed a $6.6 million equivalency for its mentions.
In the first six years of Blue Zones Project Hawaii’s work, the Central Maui and West Hawaii communities received 100 percent positive or neutral media coverage, were mentioned in media over 3,400 times, and had an aggregate audience of over 3.5 billion readers. This amounted to a value in ad equivalency of over $11 million. Blue Zones Project Southwest Florida received comparable value in ad equivalency – over $10 million.
Blue Zones Project Communities undeniably benefit from better health. But they also experience significantly reduced medical costs, increased positive media exposure with a monetary value, and – when local restaurants and grocers work with Blue Zones to offer healthier foods – improved economic vitality as well.