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Blue Zones Project launches in Grand Forks, aims to transform community health

]It is a public-private partnership between Altru Health System, the Altru Foundation and the North Dakota Department of Health.

Altru Hospital
According to a news release, the Blue Zones Project launched in Grand Forks on May 4.
Herald file photo
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GRAND FORKS — The state of North Dakota and Altru Health System have announced the launch of the first Blue Zones Project in the state.

According to a news release, the Blue Zones Project launched in Grand Forks on May 4. It is a public-private partnership between Altru Health System, the Altru Foundation and the North Dakota Department of Health. The health initiative aims to use an evidence-based approach to enact changes to improve well-being, economic vitality and resilience. Locally, the program is also meant to showcase what other cities and states can achieve the same objectives.

“The health and well-being of North Dakotans is a top priority of our administration and an essential element in building healthy, vibrant communities and a skilled 21st century workforce — two pillars of our Main Street Initiative,” said Gov. Doug Burgum in a news release. “The Grand Forks project has the potential to become a model for enhancing community health and economic vitality as we strive to empower people, improve lives and inspire success.”

The Blue Zones Project is based on research and principles developed by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author, who identified the cultures of the world — or blue zones — with the healthiest, longest-living populations. Those communities include Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, Calif., and Nicoya, Costa Rica. Residents of those areas share characteristics, ranging from diet to exercise to having a sense of belonging and purpose in their community.

The Blue Zones Project rolled out in Albert Lea, Minnesota in 2009, and has worked in 70 cities in the U.S. to date. Organizers of the project have been seeking partnerships with city, county, business and healthcare leaders since August, 2021.


The initiative will work to enhance policies and improve social connections in the places where people spend large amounts of time, including streets, parks, schools and workplaces, among others.

Without going into specifics, the release indicates that “participating communities have seen double-digit drops in obesity and smoking rates, economic investment in downtown corridors, grant-funding awards to support policies and programs aimed at improving health equity and millions of dollars of savings in health care costs.”

Kristi Hall-Jiran, chief philanthropy and partnership officer at Altru, said the Near North neighborhood, an area bordered by University Avenue, North Washington Street, Gateway Drive and North Third Street, has been identified as the area where the project will roll out.

Said Altru CEO Todd Forkel: “Our mission is to improve health and enrich life, and one of the biggest ways to improve the health and lives of our patients is to invest in our community and in our workforce. The Blue Zones Project has a proven track record in using a community-wide approach to creating a healthier, happier, and more productive workforce, and that’s a win-win for everyone involved. This is especially important in a time when frontline workers are so deserving of every support we can give them.”

The Blue Zones Project in Grand Forks will be a multi-year effort to involve community members in working toward the goal of building and supporting a “culture of community health and well-being.”

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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