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Okinawan women live longer, healthier lives, experts are told

Women of Okinawa have long-term close-knit friends; Minnesota town changed its health ecosystem. Researcher say it takes permanent lifestyle situations to make a difference.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: November 1, 2012

Many American cities aren't set up to stimulate good health of their residents, a problem that can be fixed through applying the practices of communities with long histories of health, a health expert said Wednesday.

“The answer, the secret of longevity, and at the same time, the answer to the health care problem does not lie with our doctors — they help, but they don't have the answers,” said Dan Buettner, a best-selling author and renowned explorer.

“Obamacare isn't the answer. Mitt Romney doesn't have the answer. Big Pharma doesn't have the answer. The answer lies with paying close attention to cultures that have achieved outcomes we want, and it's not all that different than the way that our grandparents and their grandparents before them.”

Buettner spoke to health leaders Wednesday at the Oklahoma Hospital Association's annual convention about how the state could better its health status.

The convention's theme is “Leading the Way to a Healthy Future,” a concept that hospital association President Craig Jones said represents the role hospitals can play in improving the health status of Oklahomans.

“We're just hoping that people will realize we can be a part of this,” Jones said. “You don't have to be a big hospital. You don't have to have a lot of resources. There are a lot of ideas that, if we just unify our overall effort, we can begin to push that needle.”

For several years, Oklahoma has ranked poorly in several health status indicators, including poor ranking in infant mortality and high rates of heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes.

For example, Oklahoma has one of the highest death rates in the U.S., meaning Oklahoma residents aren't living as long as residents in other states.

On Wednesday, Buettner, the founder and chief executive officer of Blue Zones, spoke about what lessons he has learned from communities around the world that have the highest rates of centenarians, among other positive health indicators.

In 2004, Buettner and a team of researchers, financed through a National Geographic grant, traveled around the world to identify places where people were living longer and better.

The team found that, for example, the female residents of Okinawa, Japan, on average, live longer than any other women in the world. Residents of Okinawa have less heart disease, cancer and dementia.

Buettner credited Okinawa's success to things like moais, close groups of friends that are first formed when residents are 5 years old. Buettner gave an example a group of women who were in their 100s and had been friends since childhood, thanks to the moai they had formed as children.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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