In The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living like the World’s Healthiest People, Buettner lets us in on the secret to a life well lived.

Are Blue Zones the answer to the obesity epidemic?

They’re the most time-honored solution, because they offer wisdom that’s evolved over the past several hundred, or even thousand, years to actually yield populations that maintain a healthy weight.

How much research was involved in putting the book together?

It took 10 years. The first three years and half million dollars was spent just on identifying these healthy populations. That involved obtaining census data for the entire world—we had to find birth records and death records—and doing the math to identify the five areas where people lived the longest. Based on that, we went deeper to find their statistics on heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity rate. So we’ve determined that in addition to being longest-lived, these people also have the lowest rates of chronic disease and the healthiest weights. Step two was to hire teams of people to look at exactly what these populations had been doing for the past century that has yielded such extraordinary health. For diet alone we did about 155 surveys.

How do Blue Zones translate to optimal health?

First and foremost, they take the focus away from individual responsibility and shift it to changing the environment. So instead of trying to convince individuals to have discipline and eat better and exercise more, all the project resources go to making permanent changes to a community’s environments and policies, so that making a healthy choice is not only the easy choice, it’s unavoidable.

What will the Blue Zones project look like in 10 years?

In five years we’ve gone from one city to three cities to 20 cities. If the project continues to grow at the same rate, 10 years from now we could have thousands of cities in America using this as their main population health template. And that would make me very happy indeed.

How will it be implemented across a greater span of communities and people?

So, we work in each city in three levels. On the first, with local government. On the second, with every restaurant, grocery store, large workplace, school, and bigger faith-based organization. And on the third, with individuals, to get them to sign a Blue Zone pledge to go into their own home and make some permanent change.

What’s the most critical takeaway from this book?

Health and longevity come from living in the right environment—or setting up the right environment—as opposed to relentlessly having to remember the right thing to do.