vol. 10 • no. 5 American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine
church, stores, and restaurants they are
mindlessly nudged to eat less and move
more. These tweaks include things such
as standing desks at work, removal of
vending machines in schools, no
breadbaskets at restaurants, safe walking
paths, and encouraging moais.
According to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, the best
investment on health is through policy.
By creating environments where fruits
and vegetables are most accessible over
fast food, a dramatic decrease in obesity
is seen. If there are 6 or more fast food
restaurants within half a mile of an
individual’s home, they are 40% more
likely to be obese than if there are less
than 3. By putting policies in place to
limit the number of fast food restaurants
and putting regulations on smoking,
policy makers can see a drastic increase
in health. If streets are walkable and
bikeable, parks are cleaned up, and the
active option is the easy option, physical
activity of the entire population can rise
In 2008, Dan and the Blue Zones team
finalized the blue print for Life Radius.
They had to make sure that it could be
applied to an American city. Buettner
and his team interviewed 5 cities to be
the pilot project, and they picked Albert
Lea, MN, a town of 9000 people. The
team first went in and listened to the
organizations to find what they needed.
They brought in Dan Burden who works
with communities across the country to
create more walkable environments.
Albert Lea wanted to widen Main Street
and up the speed limit. Blue Zones
convinced them to build a walking path
around their lake instead. The path is
now packed 11 months out of the year
with individuals walking. The sidewalks
throughout the community were
connected, so people could walk from
their homes to downtown without
having to walk through fields or busy
Grocery store and restaurant pledges
were created to help individuals change
the way they eat. Restaurants were
required to offer 3 plant-based entrées.
When a sandwich was ordered, the
customers automatically got fruit instead
of fries. By using different adjectives
rather than the “healthy choice,”
individuals were more likely to choose
the best option. Grocery stores created
healthy checkout isles, so that instead of
candy bars and soda greeting people in
the checkout, they saw fruit, water, and
Schools signed Blue Zones pledges.
They do not sell candy for fundraisers,
and there was no candy for good grades.
Based on a University of Minnesota study
calculation that prohibiting eating in
hallways and classrooms would occasion
a 11% per year drop in student body
mass index (BMI), the project convinced
schools to adopt the policy. Then, 25% of
the community signed a personal pledge
that they would take steps toward a
After about a year and a half, there was
a 3.2-year bump in life expectancy; the
community lost a combined weight of
7280 pounds; and health care costs
dropped by 40%.
Blue Zones Expansion
After seeing the results in Albert Lea,
Blue Zones began interviewing larger
cities to take on. The beach cities of Los
Angeles were chosen.
worked with city planners to make the
streets built for humans instead of cars.
The rate of smoking went down by 30%;
BMI went down by 14%; and people
reported healthy behaviors.
From there, Blue Zones moved into
Iowa with the same strategy; 10 cities
Smoking went down by
8.8%, and healthy eating went up by
10.5%. Then, Blue Zones started working
in Fort Worth, TX, and Kauai, HI, and are
now in 27 cities across the United States.
In association with the University of
Minnesota Public Health Department,
Dan and his team created the Vitality
Compass, named the Best Online Tool
for Retirement and Longevity by the Wall
Street Journal. This tool has users answer
lifestyle and background questions based
on the Power 9 teachings of Right
Outlook, Move Naturally, Eat Wisely, and
Belong; it then calculates their biological
age, overall life expectancy, healthy life
expectancy, and the years they are
gaining/losing because of their habits. It
then gives the users 12 customized
recommendations to help them live
longer and better. This is a useful tool to
take initially as a baseline test, then try
out some of the specific lifestyle
recommendations, and 3 to 6 months
later, take the quiz again.
Recommendations include reducing salt
intake, joining a faith-based community,
quitting smoking, improving attitude, and
Blue Zones started as a way of
discovering the healthiest lifestyles that
lead to vitality and longevity. Now, 12
years after the start of this massive
project, Blue Zones is a way to design
the healthiest lifestyles possible for
individuals and for entire communities.
The goal for Blue Zones is to not only
make the healthy choice the easy choice,
but also the unavoidable choice.
To join the Blue Zones mission, contact Info@bluezones.com.
More information about the project can be obtained at https://
communities.bluezonesproject.com/. The authors disclose the
following conflicts of interest: Dan Buettner is the CEO of Blue
Zones and Sam Skemp works at Blue Zones as Program
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The heritability of human longevity: a
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2. Christakis NA, Fowler JH. The spread of
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3. Buettner D. The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for
Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived
the Longest. Washington, DC: National
Geographic Society; 2008.
4. Buettner D. The Blue Zones Solution:
Eating and Living Like the World’s
Healthiest People. Washington, DC:
National Geographic Society; 2015.