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For Health Reasons, Fort Worth Is Going Blue

Fort Worth wants to reduce medical bills and invest in healthier living, so the city is going blue in a five-year project, called the Blue Zones Project. But it doesn’t have anything to do with water or the ocean. 

It’s a spin-off of a book by author Dan Buettner.

“Blue Zones is actually an off-shoot of a 10-year-long National Geographic project that found parts of the world where populations are living longer with a fraction of the rate of heart disease and cancer and diabetes,” Buettner says. “And then, in a sense we reversed engineered it. So we went in to find out what these people are doing that explains longevity.”

Buettner is working with Texas Health Resources, the city of Fort Worth and community groups to create what it’s calling "blue zones."

“We focus on the buildings, and the built-in environment that people live in, so I’m not hounding individuals,” he says. “I’m using evidence-based ways to optimize our streets, our restaurants, our grocery stores.”  

That means asking schools to limit eating to cafeterias loaded with fruits and vegetables, building sidewalks and bike lanes, or asking employers to tie gym memberships to lower insurance rates.

After a two-week, $500,000 assessment, Fort Worth leaders green-lighted the plan. Officials won’t give a cost estimate of the five-year-project, only saying it will be privately funded.

Larry Tubb loves the idea of the project. He’s with The Center for Children’s Health, run by Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. 

“People, when they have the facts, and are given choices, they will inherently make the healthier choice,” he says.

Tubb notes that Fort Worth doesn’t have an unusually severe obesity problem, or that its kids are in worse health, but Blue Zone supporters like him want to encourage healthier habits, which will hopefully reduce hospital visits.  

“It’s not really about the current state of health.” Tubb says. “What it’s more about is the willingness of the community to work together to improve the health of each and every person in the community, including the kids.”

33-year-old Carl Roberts II doesn’t buy it. Eating a lobster pizza at Fireside Pies in Fort Worth, he frowned when asked about the Blue Zones project. 

“We’re not Austin, we’re not San Francisco, we’re Fort Worth!” Roberts says. “We don’t do mass transit well. We don’t do buses. We don’t ride bikes. We’re not hippies. We’re free spirited, we’re cowboys here. We like our meat and potatoes.”

His friend, 25-year-old Taylor Rosier, was more optimistic. 

“I really do feel like, as long as this is something that is strictly just an option, that people aren’t being forced into it,” Rosier says. “I think it’s fantastic. I think it does give people incentive to make their lives healthier, get outside a little bit more, and enjoy the fresh air.”

Nearby, over at Lisa’s Fried Chicken, Edith Gonzalez pooh-poohed the idea.

“My husband tells me every day [to live healthier], so it wouldn’t matter,” she says. “Probably calling me fat or something.”

Gonzalez says she’s worked at Lisa’s Fried Chicken for 11 years and eats chicken every day.

“You gotta die somehow, so you might as well enjoy your life,” she says.

Blue Zones ambassadors say it’s not about pushing people to give up fried food -- it just means maybe biking to that fast-food joint and ordering a side of fresh veggies or two the next time. 

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.