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Can St. Charles County transform into a Blue Zone?

The St. Charles County Economic Development Commission and representatives from the Blue Zones Project welcome attendees to Wine at Five, the culminating event to a two-day visit as representatives and community members brainstormed ideas for residents to lead healthier, longer lives.

The St. Charles County Economic Development Commission and representatives from the Blue Zones Project welcome attendees to Wine @ Five, the culminating event to a two-day visit in October as representatives and community members brainstormed ideas for residents to lead healthier, longer lives.

To further enhance its reputation as one of the best places to live, St. Charles County wants to turn blue.

Blue Zones Project, launched in 2008, has been lauded for a its innovative approach to population health management and transformation. Scientists claim there are five places in the world – Loma Linda, California; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; and the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica – where the citizens live longer with lower incidences of chronic diseases and a higher quality of life. They call those areas “blue zones.”

“The EDC Business and Community Partners of Greater St. Charles is committed to identifying national, evidence-based best practices to make our community one of the best regions to live. The Blue Zones Project results cannot be denied,” Lisle Wescott, an advocate for the Blue Zones Project explained. Wescott is the chairperson of EDC Partners health committee and president of SSM Health St. Joseph Hospital-Lake Saint Louis.

The Blue Zones Project for Saint Charles County is currently under review by the EDC Partners Board. According to Martha Kampen, strategic initiatives coordinator for EDC Partners, the next step will be ensuring that enough people in the community are interested and want to be involved in bringing this community wellness program to the area.

Blue Zones Project personnel arrived in October in advance of a two-day event, which consisted of a transformational presentation at the Old Hickory Country Club in Cottleville. During the presentation, Blue Zones representatives highlighted the things people in the Blue Zones do to lead healthier, longer lives – eating mostly plant-based diets, using herbs in their food and beverages, moving naturally and regularly, cultivating social networks and making time to de-stress and focus on family and faith.

Next, it was the cities’ turn to showcase themselves to the Blue Zones representatives. Wentzville’s Mayor, Nick Guccione, went first; followed by Cathy Pratt, group manager, staff support services for St. Peters; and Patrick McKeehan and David Leezer, economic development directors for O’Fallon and the city of Saint Charles, respectively. Each illustrated the cities’ strengths and challenges. Blue Zones representatives then asked questions of the presenters, such as how much growth is too much. They also noted that three of the cities’ representatives mentioned banning smoking. That prompted a representative from the American Heart Association to ask if Blue Zones will come to St. Charles County when there are places like Ameristar and certain bars and restaurants that allow tobacco use. Cross-currents of conversation developed and city employees turned to the county representative for a verdict on whether all smoking would or could be banned.

County Councilmember Mike Elam [District 3] said there was no will on the council’s part or on County Executive Steve Ehlmann’s part to enforce a county-wide smoking ban, in part due to Ameristar and out of respect for the city of St. Charles. He pointed out that the Hollywood Casino, “five minutes away” in Maryland Heights, permits smoking.

However, Randy Schilling, owner and founder of OPO Startups on St. Charles’ Main Street, said the lack of a smoking ban makes it hard for him to attract and retain talented employees. He said he regularly finds cigarette butts littering the cobblestones near his office and has had to buy a “guminator” as he called it, to remove the black spots on the cobblestones.

“To have a Blue Zones Project yet to allow smoking is contradictory,” Schilling said.

At the end of the presentation, Blue Zones reps asked the group, “If we come in, what is the one thing you would want to see?” Answers ranged from longer life to more community walkability to reducing child obesity to continued growth. Some examples of methods to achieve those goals could include:

  • Businesses implementing wellness programs that include exercise options and healthier food menu choices.

  • Schools encouraging better eating habits, implementing tobacco-free policies, establishing “walking buses” and increasing physical activity to help students and parents form healthy habits for life.

  • Restaurants offering Blue Zones dining choices.

  • Faith-based communities holding “walk-to-church” activities once a month or organizing special group activities.

  • Local grocery stores having Blue Zones check-out lanes that display healthy snack items only.

  • Community policies that ensure plenty of sidewalks and add community gardens, farmers’ markets and other community infrastructures that allow residents to move naturally, connect socially and access healthy food.

  • Individuals forming group “moais”[support systems] to encourage routine walking and social support.

While the discussion has begun, the decision to implement this initiative is contingent upon identifying sponsors and volunteers,” Kampen said.

For information on volunteering or the Blue Zones Projoect, email mkampen@edcscc.com or call (636) 229-5284.

The St. Charles County Economic Development Commission and representatives from the Blue Zones Project welcome attendees to Wine at Five, the culminating event to a two-day visit as representatives and community members brainstormed ideas for residents to lead healthier, longer lives.

The St. Charles County Economic Development Commission and representatives from the Blue Zones Project welcome attendees to Wine at Five, the culminating event to a two-day visit as representatives and community members brainstormed ideas for residents to lead healthier, longer lives.

 

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