Comment: Jacksonville has the potential to become a Blue Zone | Jax daily record | Jacksonville Daily Record

Asghar Syed

By Asghar Syed • Gunster Shareholder

Have you considered what an annual visit to the doctor might look like if the patient was a city? Do you have any idea how the City of Jacksonville might fare on a detailed health assessment?

At the invitation of Baptist Health, Blue Zones and the national analysis and consulting firm Gallup published an assessment of the wellbeing of our city. The results are fascinating, and Jacksonville’s chance, if health is a priority, couldn’t be more compelling.

The Blue Zones initiative grew out of researching bags around the world where people live measurably better and longer.

In countries like Sardinia (Italy) and Okinawa (Japan), people live to be 100 years old ten times older than in the United States

The Blue Zones initiative examines the lifestyle traits that explain longevity and finds that these communities share traits in terms of physical activity, determination, healthy eating, and (perhaps most importantly) a sense of community.

Last year, Blue Zones surveyed 275 Jacksonville city guides from 140 organizations, including government agencies, nonprofits, and employers of more than 50,000 residents in the area.

The organization also evaluated more than 7,000 Gallup-conducted surveys to collect data on the “wellbeing” of the city. The term refers to “how we are doing … and how it makes us feel about the way our lives go”.

Because Blue Zones metrics are so focused on our purpose and community, Gallup’s data offers a powerful insight into the health of the city.

Unsurprisingly, Blue Zones found room for improvement. On a scale of 1 to 10, Jacksonville rates its wellbeing at 6.96, compared to Florida’s 7.06 and the country’s 7.07.

Although our well-being is below average, our optimism has gone through the roof. Many Jacksonville residents believe their wellbeing will improve over the next five years.

There is reason to be optimistic. Blue Zones has developed a rundown of effective strategies to improve the health and wellbeing of Jacksonville. His proposals relate to the built environment, access to food, and alcohol and tobacco laws.

In our built environment, we can implement Complete Streets initiatives and convert retail properties (like Regency Square Mall) into mixed-use villages.

We can expand consumer food subsidies, develop healthy mom-and-pop stores, and make the Jacksonville Farmers Market a community goal.

There are a number of initiatives the city can take to curb excessive alcohol consumption, and we can advocate local rather than state regulatory oversight on tobacco consumption.

Many attractive opportunities are neither new nor purely desirable. Much of the necessary work, such as our focus on the Emerald Trail initiative, is ongoing.

What Blue Zones could add is a team of professional mobilizers and experts to help network, collaborate and build on the existing momentum.

Blue Zones helps promising communities avoid isolated efforts, and they have a formidable track record.

Fort Worth, Texas partnered with Blue Zones in 2014 and has seen its wellbeing surge from 185th to 31st nationwide. Fueled by the full commitment of local government and the business community, Blue Zones helped Fort Worth set an example Jacksonville could seek to match or surpass it.

To learn more, you can access the Blue Zones rating here: If your organization is committed to Jacksonville, you should be part of the effort to make Jacksonville a Certified Blue Zone.

Asghar Syed is a commercial litigation attorney and shareholder in Gunster. He is a member of the board of directors of the Baptist Health System.

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