Teaching Healthier Habits

Blue Zones Project – Umpqua is working with area schools to help create a healthier environment in the setting where kids spend much of their childhood. 

Story by Juliete Palenshus 

It’s never too late to consider one’s health and overall well being. It’s also never too early. 

That’s why, when working to make the Umpqua Valley a place where all residents can live longer and better, the community-led well-being initiative, Blue Zones Project-Umpqua, has a Schools Committee focused on supporting and improving well-being efforts in our schools. 

A 2017 Blue Zones Project “discovery” process identified several goals in creating healthy social and environmental changes in schools for all kids. The goals were developed with the help of community input, evidence-based best practices from around the country and local leadership. 

Priorities for 2018 include decreasing food waste in schools and increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables by conducting food waste studies at four local schools — JoLane Middle School and Sunnyslope and Eastwood elementary schools in Roseburg and Tri City Elementary School in Myrtle Creek. 

These and other objectives will complement existing community well-being improvement efforts, such as requiring kids to be physically active for 50 percent of their P.E. class time; restricting vending machine access during school hours and limiting unhealthy food and beverage advertising on school property. 

As stated in the school wellness policy adopted by the Douglas County District 4 board, the Roseburg School District is “committed to the optimal development of every student and believes that a positive, safe and health-promoting learning environment is necessary for students to have the opportunity to achieve personal, academic, developmental and social success.” 

Blue Zones Project efforts in the school sector are led by Trina Gwaltney of Mercy Foundation’s Healthy Kids Outreach Program, and Analicia Nicholson, assistant superintendent of Douglas Education Service District. Michael Lasher, Douglas ESD superintendent, serves on the Blue Zones Project-Umpqua Steering Committee and has provided pivotal direction and leadership for the schools committee as well. 


Thanks to the Schools Committee, in collaboration with Healthy Kids and OSU Extension, progress has been made in making healthy choices easier within schools. The committee is helping form and support wellness committees in all schools, offering purpose workshops for high school students and making celebrations healthier in elementary schools. 

In addition, the committee is helping elementary schools achieve a state mandate of 150 minutes per week of physical activity and supporting the installation of school gardens through the Umpqua Community Veg Education Group’s Kitchen Garden Project. 

In collaboration with the Blue Zones Project Built Environment Committee and Roseburg and Douglas County governments, efforts are under way to create safe routes to school for Green and Eastwood elementary schools. 

Because children learn, eat, play and develop lifelong habits at school, local schools play a key role in Blue Zones Project by creating an environment that teaches healthy lifestyle choices. Through strong local leadership and dedicated committee members, improvements will optimize school environments to better promote physical, social and emotional health. 

Juliete Palenshus is engagement lead for Blue Zones Project-Umpqua. 

Look for Blue Zones Project-Umpqua on social media, or email bluezonesprojectumpqua@sharecare.com, to learn more.

For more information about the national Blue Zones Project, visit bluezonesproject.com