Legacy of health: Blue Zones project lead retires

Ellen Kehr has championed Blue Zones in Albert Lea since its 2009 pilot project. Under her leadership, Albert Lea was certified as the first Blue Zones community in the U.S., meaning the city and community partners work to make healthier choices easier for everyone, from physical activity along trails to nutritious foods at schools and worksites.

With Kehr retiring, community partners recently celebrated her legacy, including a plaque presented by Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr., as shown in the photo above.

In a 2021 survey, the most recent available, Albert Lea’s overall well-being score was 68.5, an increase of 9.3 points since 2015. This score is higher than state and national averages. A little more than 74 percent of residents surveyed reported that they are “thriving,” up significantly from 44.6 percent in 2014. Tobacco use, worry about money, high cholestrerol and high blood pressure have all decreased among survey respondents.

Nick Buettner with Blue Zones said to Kehr, “You have taken the work that you’ve done here and have been able to expand it across the country, and really allow people with your lessons to change communities. I would argue you have impacted millions of lives.”

Read more about Kehr’s legacy in the Albert Lea Tribune.

Blue Zones will continue in Albert Lea with Cathy Malakowsky, director of community engagement and enrichment, assuming the project lead as part of her position with the City of Albert Lea.