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Doctor proposes 'health capital'

Exercise guru wants $10 million to transform Rochester

By Jeff Hansel

jhansel@postbulletin.com

Dr. James Levine, a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist known for his quirky ideas related to exercise, plans to ask the city of Rochester for $10 million.

In a city with a tax levy of about $30 million annually, he could have a tough sell. But Levine thinks it would be worth the city's investment.

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What does he want to do with the money?

"In the last six months I've actually come up with the idea that we could actually have Rochester be the healthiest city in the world," Levine said.

He would use the money to track healthy behaviors, make the city more activity-friendly and help businesses transform workplaces into dynamic, productive environments. Instead of just having a reputation for treating health problems, Levine said, Rochester would develop a reputation for providing residents health through community and work environments.

Levine said he proposed the "healthiest city in the world" idea to Mayo Clinic officials.

"I thought they were going to burst out laughing," he said. "But they're taking this very seriously indeed."

Rochester City Council President Dennis Hanson said his first thought would be that $10 million is a lot of money to change infrastructure. "I'd have to see a lot of details. I think it'd be a pretty tough sell," he said.

But Hanson said if Levine came to the city council with a clear business plan that showed the city would end up saving health-care costs, it might be a different story.

"It will be interesting to see the proposal come forward," he said.

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Levine said he envisions a "completely modernistic city" that others could model themselves after.

As part of his healthiest-city program, a tracking system would show how often residents were eating healthy food and participating in activity, whether at fitness centers or in the community at large.

Levine is a proponent of "walking meetings" where staff members walk through the company or community together. Such activities would certainly be part of his plan.

Talking on the telephone as he walked on his office treadmill, Levine said "we could do this."

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