Contact: Jennifer Howard
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 11, 2022
Blue Zones will assess South Phoenix’s well-being and create plan to help residents live better and longer lives.
PHOENIX, March 11, 2022 – Equality Health Foundation, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Arizona, and Valley of the Sun United Way today announced the launch of a new Blue Zones Activate effort, a comprehensive policy-based initiative that uses an evidence-based approach to make the healthy choice the easy choice in all the places people spend the most time. Blue Zones Activate will begin with the Blue Zones team providing an in-depth assessment of the South Phoenix area that will help determine how to make it a healthier place to live, work, and thrive.
Blue Zones employs a proven solution in collaboration with communities to help people live better and longer. The company’s work is based on research and principles developed by Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow and New York Times bestselling author, who identified the cultures of the world—or blue zones—with the healthiest, longest-living populations.
Data published by the Centers for Disease Control shows that where people live has greater influence on health than genetics.1 According to a study by the Virginia Commonwealth University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, depending on where you live in Phoenix, life expectancy ranges from 71 to 85; many of the zip codes with the lowest life expectancies in the region are in South Phoenix.2 Blue Zones tackles this “zip code effect” using scientifically proven lessons of longevity, health, and happiness gleaned from 20 years of research to boost the well-being of entire communities.
“Blue Zones creates meaningful and lasting change in improving health and the quality of life in communities, and we’re excited to explore innovations that create a better today and tomorrow for all residents,” said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. “Higher well-being and health are key to help the entire city of Phoenix rise from the pandemic stronger and better than before.”
The Blue Zones approach focuses on the single largest determinant of health: the place people live. By improving the Life Radius®—the area close to home where most Americans spend 90% of their lives—Blue Zones transformations have been able to improve overall population health and well-being, raise employee and student productivity, and boost economic vitality and development.
1 Sources for Data on SDOH | Social Determinants of Health | CDC
2 Center on Society and Health (vcu.edu)
Equality Health Foundation, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Arizona, and Valley of the
Sun United Way, along with funding from Arizona’s allocation of the American Rescue Plan Act
Funds, are supporting the first phase of Blue Zones Activate, which is a community and
leadership readiness and prospective transformation feasibility assessment.
The Blue Zones team, made up of global experts in food systems, built environment, tobacco,
alcohol, health equity, workforce development, and happiness, will begin immediate work with
local leaders and organizations to assess the strengths, needs, and challenges that South Phoenix
residents are facing today. Blue Zones experts will then work with leaders and residents to build
a solution and evidence-based plan for change. The transformation plan, once implemented, can
drive widespread improvements in well-being, reductions in health-related costs, and improve
economic vitality in the region. The needs, desires and readiness of the community will
determine the next phase— a Phase II or a Phase III path to improving the well-being of the
region. Phase II of Blue Zones Activate focuses on policy improvement as the most powerful and
cost-effective lever in improving the health of a region. Phase III is a Blue Zones Project—the
full Life Radius® Model, which focuses on people, places, and policy.
“At Equality Health Foundation, our goal is to end health disparities and improve the whole
health of diverse populations. Blue Zones provides the model for change to strengthen
community resiliency and preparedness against a pandemic on a personal, community, and
systems level,” said Tomás León, Equality Health Foundation president. “We’re honored to
serve as the convener of like-minded entities around this very important initiative.”
“Nearly 80 percent of what influences a person’s health relates to nonmedical issues, such as
food, housing, and transportation. These social determinants of health and the health equity
challenges in South Phoenix disproportionately affect communities of color,” said Jean
Kalbacher, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Arizona. “We are pleased to be
collaborating with passionate and driven organizations like Equality Health Foundation, Valley
of the Sun United Way, and Blue Zones toward the expansion and delivery of sustainable health
and lifestyle solutions.”
“Valley of the Sun United Way was recently entrusted with a transformation gift from
MacKenzie Scott, giving the opportunity to address long-term systemic inequities that have been
deepened by crisis,” said Carla Vargas Jasa, president and CEO of Valley of the Sun United
Way. “Along with this gift and our community’s support, we will address our MC2026
community goals to ensure every Valley resident, regardless of their zip code, race, or income
has access to food and healthcare, quality education, a safe home, and pathways to better paying
jobs. Our investment in Blue Zones marks a sign of confidence that it will be a critical
component towards the successful achievement of these goals.”
Ben Leedle, CEO of Blue Zones, said, “We are excited to work with South Phoenix leaders in
this bold shared purpose to improve well-being and economic vitality in the region. Research
shows improved well-being leads to healthier and happier residents, a better and more productive
workforce, and a better economy, but for the highest return on investment, it takes a breadth of
community leaders to collaboratively champion the cause.”
We invite community leaders and residents to help launch the Blue Zones Activate initiative in
South Phoenix at its kickoff event from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on March 28 at The Salvation Army
Ray & Joan Kroc Center Phoenix, located at 1375 East Broadway Road. Dan Buettner, Blue
Zones founder, New York Times bestselling author, and National Geographic Explorer, will give
the keynote address.
For more information on Blue Zones Activate or to learn how to get involved, visit
About Blue Zones®
Blue Zones employs evidence-based ways to help people live better, longer. The company’s
work is rooted in explorations and research done by National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner in
Blue Zones regions around the world, where people live extraordinarily long and/or happy lives.
The original research and findings were released in Buettner’s bestselling books The Blue Zones
Solution, The Blue Zones of Happiness, The Blue Zones, Thrive, and Blue Zones Kitchen—all
published by National Geographic books. Using original Blue Zones research, Blue Zones works
with cities and counties to make healthy choices easier through permanent and semi-permanent
changes to our human-made surroundings. Participating communities have experienced doubledigit
drops in obesity and tobacco use and have saved millions of dollars in healthcare costs. For
more information, visit bluezones.com.
About Equality Health Foundation
The Equality Health Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing equal health
for all and leveling the healthcare playing field in diverse, underserved communities. The
Foundation works to expand access to care, accelerate health education, and eliminate healthcare
inequalities so that everyone in the community has an opportunity to lead healthier and longer
lives—a movement for advancing equal health for all. For more information, visit
equalityhealthfoundation.org or follow @EQHFoundation on Facebook, @EQHFoundation on
Twitter, and @EQHFoundation on LinkedIn.
UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and making the health
system work better for everyone by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer
health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. In the United
States, UnitedHealthcare offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals,
employers, and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 1.5
million physicians and care professionals, and 7,000 hospitals and other care facilities
nationwide. The company also provides health benefits and delivers care to people through
owned and operated health care facilities in South America. UnitedHealthcare is one of the
businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified health care company. For more
information, visit UnitedHealthcare at www.uhc.com or follow @UHC on Twitter.
About Valley of the Sun United Way
Valley of the Sun United Way envisions a community where every child, family and individual
is healthy, has a safe place to live, and has every opportunity to succeed in school, in life and in
work. As we work with our community, corporate and nonprofit partners to implement MC2026,
our five-year plan for Mighty Change, we will put all of our efforts toward reaching bold goals
for Maricopa County in Health, Housing and Homelessness, Education and Workforce
Development. We invite you to join us. Learn more at www.vsuw.org.