Sustaining Healthier Lifestyles
After the City of Fort Worth ranked as one of the worst metro areas for well-being in the nation in 2014, Texas Health, city and community leaders set out to change that. Seven years later, leaders at Fort Worth worksites, schools, restaurants, grocery stores, faith-based communities, and local organizations and associations have made permanent lifestyle improvements that benefit more than 200,000 people every day. Through healthier eating, increased activity and stronger social connections, the city is now the largest certified Blue Zones Community in the country.
Today, North Texas Healthy Communities (NTHC), Texas Health's community outreach arm, is working to sustain the Blue Zones Project's momentum while expanding support into high-need schools, faith communities, worksites and neighborhoods identified by our Community Health Needs Assessment. Targeting interventions to individuals most in need will help address healthcare inequities and close socioeconomic gaps.
The team continues to pursue its next goal of helping Fort Worth become the healthiest metropolitan city in the nation. To achieve this, NTHC is working with project partners to execute a strategic plan that will deepen our relationships and engagement with more than 365 participating organizations and over 95,000 individuals.
- Maintained Fort Worth's overall Gallup Well-Being Index score since the pandemic began despite widespread illness, anxiety and depression and job loss. This reinforces the overall positive well-being changes implemented since the project began in 2014.
- Shifted the program's focus to address continued pandemic-related needs in underserved communities. This included distributing an estimated 290,000 pounds of fresh produce across 26 locations, developing vaccination awareness campaigns, promoting community vaccination clinics and implementing traditional Blue Zones Project programming.
- Launched a Mental Health First Aid program to help participants identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. The program is for anyone who wants to help others and positively impact mental health in the community, regardless of background or degree. It teaches practical skills, how to assess if someone is at risk of suicide or harm, and it provides access to various resources.
- Received the American Hospital Association's prestigious Dick Davidson NOVA Award for hospital-led collaborative efforts that improve community health.
- Expanded the Good for You Pantry initiative to nine school and community-based locations, offering no-cost produce to the surrounding community. In addition, pantries offer recipe cards, cooking utensils, nutritional information and access to virtual cooking demonstrations and videos to help recipients make the most of the produce they receive. Combined, these pantries have benefited an estimated 11,000 people.
- Created the Fresh Access produce distribution program, working with 14 area community centers to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to seniors and youth who attend activities and receive services.
- Launched a Produce Recovery Pilot Program, working with a local grocery chain and an individual compost company to convert thousands of pounds of viable produce every week into compost for urban farms and school gardens. These efforts were recognized as a runner-up in the city of Fort Worth's Environmental Excellence Awards in the Solid Waste Reduction & Recycling category.
Snapshot: Despite the Pandemic, Fort Worth Maintains its Well-Being
The practices that the City of Fort Worth, Texas Health and other Blue Zone Project participants established in 2014 are proving to be sustainable. Fort Worth maintained its overall Gallup Well-Being Index score in 2021. In fact, residents' health and well-being improved in many areas:
- Obesity rates held steady while increasing across the nation.
- Smoking declined by 23%.
- The number of people with high blood pressure declined by 13% and high cholesterol dropped by 20%.
- Physical activity increased: 58% more people biked or walked for routine trips and 15% more exercised for 30 minutes at least three days per week.
Increasing access to healthier food has been a major focus of project leaders in the last 18 to 24 months. They were instrumental in changing municipal policies to use vacant lots for urban farms and allow residents and pushcart vendors to sell produce.
Additionally, project leaders encouraged local markets to accept federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits so that individuals in need could purchase healthy food and move toward self-sufficiency. This year, program leaders matched SNAP spending on fruits and vegetables through the Double Up Food Bucks program. Launched initially at Cowtown Farmers Market, Double Up expanded to two Foodland stores and Elrod’s Cost Plus Supermarket. Since the inception of Double Up Food Bucks, SNAP users have redeemed almost $4,000 in fresh produce at the farmer's market and over $123,000 at participating grocery stores.