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Healthy-life regime has Big City Diner changing its menu

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Big City Diner is the first local restaurant that has pledged to offer healthier menu options as part of the Blue Zones Project, a healthy living experiment started by New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner.

The goal is to help people live longer, more productive lives and ultimately lower health care costs by reducing the rates of obesity, smoking and chronic diseases.

The restaurant will be offering at least one new Blue Zones-approved menu item a month at its Kailua eatery and Windward Mall location, set to open by the end of the month, to encourage patrons to improve their diets. The project focuses on a diet that is primarily plant-based, including fruits, vegetables, beans, tofu, lentils, nuts and seeds rich in nutrients.

“It’s very important for everyone to live and make good choices as far as their health. Food is just one component. But food is very important because that’s what fuels your body every day,” said Lane Muraoka, owner of Big City Diner.

Koolaupoko (Windward Oahu), North Hawaii and East Hawaii on the Big Island have been selected to participate in the Blue Zones project.

The Hawaii Medical Service Association, the state’s largest health insurer, and Healthways Inc. are sponsoring the project, which officially begins Friday on Oahu and Saturday in East Hawaii. HMSA didn’t disclose how much it is investing in the five-year project that will connect health experts with employers, schools, restaurants and grocery stores to find ways to provide better and affordable choices, such as making fresh fruit the default option at food establishments rather than french fries, reducing portions on plate lunches and adding bike paths and sidewalks to make it easier for people to exercise.

“Not everybody is going to come in and order the healthy entree but at least they’re on the menu now,” said Buettner, who wrote “The Blue Zones: Lessons For Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” which identified common elements of cultures and healthy living that produced longer life expectancy.

The Blue Zones Project, based on Buettner’s research, also works with state officials to make environmental and policy changes that subtly “nudge” residents to modify behaviors that improve health outcomes.

“It doesn’t work unless you have all the leadership on board because this approach requires changing policy,” said Buettner, who is on Oahu this week for the start of the project. “The goal is to make fruits and vegetables cheaper and more accessible and make junk food less easy to obtain.”

A few examples of the changes in Blue Zones communities include encouraging schools to have a no-food policy in classrooms and hallways, “which effectively cuts out eight hours of junk-food eating,” and having ordinances that allow no more than three fast-food restaurants in a neighborhood, Buettner added.

“If you live in a neighborhood where there’s more than six fast-food restaurants, you’re about 30 percent more likely to be obese,” he said. “It’s important to emphasize that we don’t make cities (change policies), we just show them evidence that they work.”

For more information on the Blue Zones Project, which is currently in 26 U.S. cities, go to

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