Beach Cities officially named Vitality City

The Beach Cities Health District entered an agreement with Healthways to become the nation's second Vitality City.

The Beach Cities Health District has won its bid to bring the Vitality City program to Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, and Manhattan Beach.

BCHD officially entered into a contract last week with the Healthways/Blue Zone Vitality City project, an innovative public health initiative that began with a National Geographic study of the world’s longest living and healthy regions and seeks to apply lessons from those populations.

“I am so excited for the community,” said BCHD CEO Susan Burden. “So many hands have already been on this, and I think that is just the beginning of all the people that are going to a part of building this positive momentum.”

The Beach Cities emerged as the choice from more than 70 cities nationally that expressed interest in becoming the second Vitality City project. The first, a ten month project in Albert Lea, Minnesota, garnered national attention for the positive strides made in the 18,000-person town. The 3,600 residents who participated lost an average of 2.6 pounds and increased their projected life expectancy by 3.1 years; health care costs of city employees dropped 49 percent, and absenteeism dropped 20 percent.

Joel Spoonheim, Blue Zones director of health initiatives, headed the Albert Lea project and will serve in the same capacity in the Beach Cities. He said both the existing public health infrastructure of the BCHD and the way other public agencies in the area embraced the project were key factors in the selection.

“Why here? The most important thing we saw here was really strong leadership,” Spoonheim said. “We know this can’t work unless there is strong buy-in from businesses, the public sector, and non-profits. We were impressed by the breadth of people that were excited.”

BCHD and Vitality City officials met with 35 elected officials over the past three months. The contract was signed Oct. 22, the day after the Manhattan Beach City Council signaled its willingness to participate, meaning every local city council and school board had agreed to participate. None have a financial commitment but will help implement programs that were successful in the first Vitality City, such as “walking school buses,” improving area “bike-ability” and the creation community gardens.

Burden said she was grateful that the BCHD board of directors embraced the opportunity.

“They stood up and made an investment in our community’s health,” Burden said. “People can be so risk-averse that they just get comfortable about what their jobs are. These folks didn’t do that; they were just concerned about doing the right thing. I am also grateful the other six boards, the three city councils and school boards – everybody came together, and that in itself is pretty remarkable.”

BCHD committed $1.8 million over the three-year life of the project, an amount that will be matched by $3.5 million from Healthways/Blue Zone and will include access to the state-of-the art Gallup Poll Health Index community health measurement tool and give every Beach Cities employer free access to Healthways’ workplace health assessment services.

“I’m so thrilled about this,” Burden said. “Healthways is national leader in employee health. If you are Caterpillar or Apple or any large company and your health insurance is too high, Healthways is who you hire to do employee wellness to get your health insurance rates down. So all employers here will get access to this, free of charge – that is a great value, both for some of our larger employers but also for small employers.”

Gallup has already begun polling residents to create a local Health Index. The results should be ready by Nov. 19, when Vitality City will present the findings at a BHCD strategic planning session. Spoonheim said the next three to four months will essentially be a time to establish a blueprint for how to proceed in the Beach Cities.

“We have to frame how to change the well-being of the community, and the first step is to find out what is going on here,” Spoonheim said. “We want to know what is working well here so we can leverage it and have a greater impact, and also find the gaps – where we need to bring program experts to move well being ahead.”

The initiative will fully launch this spring. As successful as Vitality City was in Minnesota, the ambitions are even greater here, among a larger population over a longer time span. Preventative care is increasingly becoming an essential part of health care reform, and if this project succeeds, it will become a template that is likely to spread to communities across the nation.

“It puts the community on a national stage, this project,” Burden said. “I think everybody believes in preventative health care and knows it’s the right thing, but this really starts the measurements….It will shine a light on these three communities in a very positive way.” ER

Written by: Mark McDermott

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