Building a Healthier, Happier Dayton

The eighth annual University of Dayton & Miami Valley Hospital Health Care Symposium - "Building a Healthy Dayton: Next Steps" - will focus on creating a culture of well-being to help area residents live longer, healthier and happier lives.

The symposium, Saturday, March 25, at the University of Dayton Kennedy Union, will feature a keynote address by Nick Buettner of the Blue Zones Project — a nationwide well-being improvement initiative designed to make healthy choices easier through permanent changes to a city’s environment, policy and social networks.

“The Blue Zones Project is a team that develops contracts with local communities, municipalities and states, where they work with health care providers and leadership from those areas and coordinate efforts to try to improve the health of communities by making neighborhoods healthier,” said Kathleen Scheltens, director of the University’s premedical programs.

The Blue Zones Project is inspired by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author who identified five regions of the world, dubbed “Blue Zones,” with the highest concentration of people living to 100 years or older. The project incorporates Buettner’s findings and works with cities to implement policies and programs that will move a community toward optimal health and well-being. Currently, 31 communities in eight states have joined Blue Zones Project, impacting more than 2 million Americans.

For example, in 2009 Dan Buettner partnered with AARP and the United Health Foundation to apply nine characteristics of Blue Zones communities to Albert Lea, Minnesota. After one year, the project reported that participants added an estimated 2.9 years to their average lifespan, while health care claims for city workers dropped 49 percent.

“It is certainly exciting to think that those folks have identified communities in the world where people live longer and have figured out why, and now they are beginning to apply it the other way around,” said Dr. Michael Craig, a retired Miami Valley Hospital pulmonologist and member of the College of Arts and Sciences advisory council, who co-chairs the symposium with Scheltens.

After his keynote, Nick Buettner will meet in a closed-door session with representatives from nearly 20 area institutions and organizations to discuss the possibility of the Dayton region contracting with Blue Zones.

Five TED Talks-style presentations from local health professionals will precede Nick Buettner's address. Presenters include Montgomery County Health Commissioner Jeff Cooper. They will focus on the Dayton community’s most critical health challenges, including birth outcomes, food access and the opioid epidemic. Local programs that have successfully addressed improving community health will also be highlighted.

The University hosted a similar meeting with local leaders at the 2015 symposium, which focused on improving the patient experience through a community approach to informed end-of-life decision-making. It resulted in the development of a community-wide advance-care planning initiative.

“Mike Craig and I went to our health care organizations after that meeting and they committed $629,000 to fund the project,” Scheltens said. “Right now, I am on the leadership council for the Greater Dayton Area Advance Care Planning Initiative. We are currently implementing pilot programs in that effort to change the culture and make advance-care planning more central to what happens in Dayton.”

Scheltens and Craig would like to see Dayton become a Blue Zones community.

“It is our intention and hope that this doesn’t just become an interesting conversation, but rather inspires people to maybe consider some new initiatives,” Scheltens said.

The symposium is open to health professionals and students interested in medical careers. It also includes a student poster session focused on health care and medicine, as well as an afternoon session geared specifically for undergraduate students planning a career in health care.

Registration is required and costs $50 for health care professionals and $10 for area college and university students. The symposium is free for University of Dayton students, faculty and staff, and Miami Valley Hospital resident physicians. To register, visit go.udayton.edu/udmvhsymposium.

This activity has been approved for AMA PRA Category 1 Credit as well as continuing education credit for nursing and social work.

The program is funded through grants provided by the Miami Valley Hospital Foundation and the University of Dayton College of Arts and Sciences, with additional support provided by the professional staff at the Children’s Medical Center of Dayton.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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