Decorah is among nine Iowa communities named as a Blue Zones demonstration site by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Healthways.

These communities are the first with populations of less than 10,000 citizens to be named. In addition to Decorah, they include: Algona, Audubon, Fairfield, Harlan, Osage, Red Oak, Spirit Lake and Woodbine.

These communities join Cedar Falls, Mason City, Spencer and Waterloo, which were named in May as the first Blue Zones Project demonstration site communities in Iowa with populations greater than 10,000 citizens.

In addition to the small communities that will officially begin their journey toward improved well-being, 12 Iowa communities with populations of more than 10,000 citizens are moving forward in the selection process to become Blue Zones Project demonstration sites. These communities submitted applications in August in the second and final selection round for communities of this size, and all have been deemed qualified to progress as finalists. The finalists include: Altoona, Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Davenport, Dubuque, Iowa City, Marion, Muscatine, Ottumwa, Oskaloosa and Sioux City.

"When we first announced that Wellmark would bring the Blue Zones Project to Iowa, we were overwhelmed by the interest from across the state and delighted to be able to capture that enthusiasm by adding a focused strategy for smaller communities," said Wellmark Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Forsyth. "By combining the large community approach with a pathway tailored specifically to meet the needs of smaller communities, we are confident we will see sustainable improvement in the well-being of all Iowans."

The selected communities will receive assistance from experts to develop and implement a blueprint for making permanent environmental, social, and policy changes that transition people into healthier behaviors that can lead to longer, happier lives.

Six of the larger finalist communities did not receive site visits during round one of the large community selection process which took place earlier this year (Altoona, Burlington, Dubuque, Iowa City, Marion, and Oskaloosa). Those communities will receive site visits this fall. The final six Iowa communities with populations above 10,000 named Blue Zones Project demonstration sites will be selected in January 2013, for a total of 10 demonstration sites in communities of this size.

The Blue Zones Project is based on Blue Zones principles developed by Dan Buettner and is the centerpiece of the Healthiest State Initiative to make Iowa the healthiest state by 2016 as measured by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index®, the first-ever daily assessment of U.S. residents' health and well-being. Blue Zones Project employs evidence-based ways to help people live longer, better lives by taking a systematic, environmental approach to well-being, which focuses on optimizing policy, social networks, and the built environments where we spend our time.

The progress of the demonstration site communities will also be measured using the Well-Being Index.