Buettner focusing on taking Vitality Project to larger city

Published 9:20 pm Thursday, November 19, 2009

Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner said he and his team are focusing on taking the Vitality Project to a larger city such as Nashville, St. Louis or Lincoln, Neb., according to a new interview posted on Oprah.com.

In the interview — which can be found by clicking on the “Health” tab on Oprah’s main site and then clicking on “Wellness and Prevention” — Buettner explains the history of his research of longevity and how he brought those secrets to Albert Lea. The 10-month pilot Vitality Project sought to find out if it’s possible to increase the lifespans of residents with simple changes.

It started in January and concluded in October.

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Buettner said as an explorer for 20 years he learned that to be relevant as an explorer he had to bring back something that’s relevant for people.

He knows from research that out of all people who enter a diet, 90 percent of them fall off that plan in six months, and 8 of the remaining 10 percent fall off in the next two years.

“When it comes to longevity, diets don’t work,” he said. “We have the mistaken belief here in America that we can eat our way to health and longevity. And, in fact, the reverse of that is true.”

It’s similar with exercise programs, he said.

So when he and other project leaders began thinking of how they could introduce a public health initiative that would actually stick, the main purpose of the Vitality Project became that if people’s environments could change in permanent ways, they can be affected long-term.

Buettner said the University of Minnesota helped the Vitality Project team profile the town they wanted.

Albert Lea was chosen because it was statistically average when it comes to heart disease, cancer and rates of obesity. And it had to be a smaller sized community because of the budget.

Project leaders talked with five communities, but “Albert Lea provided the most convincing and compelling story for how they were going to make sure that all their population was going to participate,” he said.

The project encouraged participants to make changes such as switching to 10-inch plates, moving junk food out of sight and pre-plating food.

It also encouraged people to recognize who they spend their time with and to determine if those people are positive influences on their health.

He briefly mentioned the importance of volunteering and of eating nuts and fruit.

Now that the project has completed, Albert Lea has created a Vitality Center, and the community has started getting funding to facilitate the continuation of the vitality efforts, he noted.

He said there have been 20 cities that have contacted him about developing a Vitality Project in their own community.

But it’s Nashville, St. Louis and Lincoln, Neb., that seem to be the most serious about it.

“I can’t go into a city that doesn’t want this and do it,” Buettner said. “I have to start with a city that has internal will and leadership that works well together.”

The direct link to the interview can be found by going to http://www.oprah.com/article/health/wellnessandprevention/ 20091119-orig-dan-buettner-blue-zones.

The direct link to the interview can be found by going here.