Mark McDermott

Beach Cities vie to become Vitality City

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A cutting edge program aimed at improving entire communities’ health and longevity could be coming to the Beach Cities.

The Beach Cities Health District is applying to bring the Vitality City program to Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Manhattan Beach. The program grew out of “Blue Zone” research by National Geographic magazine and writer Dan Buettner that studied the world’s longest living, healthiest, and happiest populations and then sought to apply principles derived from that research to public health in the US.

The first Vitality City, Albert Lea, Minnesota, achieved startlingly successful results last year. In just six months, participants lost an average of 2.6 pounds and increased their life expectancy by 3.1 years (Blue Zone populations worldwide see a life expectancy 10 to 12 years longer than average). Additionally, health care claims for city and school employees dropped by 32 percent over ten months.

BCHD CEO Susan Burden hopes that the Beach Cities can become the second Vitality City.

“It’s huge,” Burden said. “It’s a very exciting opportunity for the three Beach Cities. If we could become the second city in the country to make substantial gains in our health, the national spotlight would be on us.”

Burden has been enlisting community support necessary for the application. On Tuesday night, both the Redondo and Manhattan Beach city councils signed off, joining Hermosa Beach as well as all three cities’ school districts and leading businesses such as Northrop Grumman, Sketchers, and Body Glove International.

If the application is successful, the Vitality City program would bring national health leaders and assessment tools – including Gallup Polls – to the Beach Cities. Detailed health data would be assembled and prescriptive programs designed. In Albert Lea, community gardens were organized, cooking classes and “purpose workshops” were offered, bike and pedestrian paths were enhanced, schools discouraged junk foods and menus at restaurants were revamped to include more healthy choices.

As Burden noted, in public health measures, small percentage gains are extremely hard to achieve. But Albert Lea achieved large, measurable, and immediate gains. “The results were stunning,” Walter Willett, the chair of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition told Newsweek magazine earlier this year.

Burden acknowledged that the application process will be extremely competitive, but she said that the fact that a public health infrastructure already exists – in the form of BCHD – should be a strong selling point. The three cities also perfectly match Vitality City’s desire to “scale up” to a population of roughly 125,000.

“They are scaling up multiples and so it is like, how do you really get a community this size to make substantial progress?” Burden said. “And if they truly want that to happen, it would be to their advantage not to start from scratch, and to our advantage to bring high-level national skill sets to bear. So it would be a win-win.”

They want people with a passion for this, and we know we qualify best in that area,” she added. “They want people that are really committed, and we check off that box really strong – because if they don’t have that in a community, it’s not going to be successful.” ER

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