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What's the secret to living longer? The Blue Zones Project works to make Jacksonville healthier

The Blue Zones Project Jacksonville aims to make Jacksonville a healthier place to live. Here's what changes you should expect to see.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — What's the secret to living a longer, healthier life?

The minds behind the Blue Zones Project Jacksonville say it's their methods of tracking and making changes in communities. What does this mean for changes you may see in your neighborhood?

CDC data shows in San Marco the average life expectancy is 80 years old. Just over two miles away around 4th Street and 8th Street, the life expectancy is nearly 20 years shorter: 61 years old. 

This is the kind of situation the Blue Zones Project aims to start to change now. They officially launched their five-year project Saturday. Nicole Hamm, executive director of the Blue Zones Project Jacksonville, says one change you may notice will be access to healthier food.

"It may not be the bright, shiny grocery store at the end of the five years," Hamm said. "But it could be that there are three really strong convenience stores where people can get their WIC accepted and their SNAP accepted." 

Blue Zones Jacksonville is working with Deb's Store on the east side and White Harvest Farms on the north side, which are both in areas that are low-income and people have less access to healthy food. Hamm says Blue Zones is data-based and will be tracking different metrics.

"Decreasing childhood obesity, decreasing hypertension hospitalizations, increasing walkability," Hamm listed. "Heart disease, obesity and hypertension are usually some of the main three that are deeply affecting our community. So we really crafted our community-wide metrics to help address some of the larger problems that have been identified by our major healthcare systems."

In a California beach town Blue Zones reports they helped lower the obesity rate by 25 percent. In an Iowa town, they state they helped 50 percent of city workers eliminate a disease risk factor.

What's the secret to a longer, healthier life? For Blue Zones, the answer will take a lot of data as they focus on people, places and policy.

"We're really looking at the opportunities for when we say, 'Let's enhance our food systems,' that also means helping with our convenience stores taking SNAP and WIC," Hamm said. "That also means looking at the opportunities for our restaurants to connect with local farmers and growers to get their produce. That means bringing people together to have healthy meals and experiment in what those things look like."

If all goes according to plan, Jacksonville will be a healthier place to live five years from now.

"We'll look at the numbers and really be able to say that our well-being index has increased greatly over the last five years," said Hamm.

You can get involved by joining a virtual town hall June 21. Learn more about it and other upcoming events here.

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