We all want to live long and healthy lives, and we know this involves taking care of ourselves. Every day, we receive messages about eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing stress well. We also know that a strong prayer life improves physical, emotional and spiritual health. All this is important for healthy longevity. However, there is another important factor in healthy longevity that many people are unaware of. It’s called the Roseto Effect.
The Roseto Effect is the phenomenon by which a close-knit community experiences a reduced rate of heart disease. The effect is named for Roseto, Pennsylvania. The Roseto effect was first noticed in 1961 when the local Roseto doctor met with Dr. Stewart Wolf, then head of Medicine of the University of Oklahoma. They discussed the unusually low rate of heart attacks in Roseto compared with other locations. Many studies followed, including a 50-year study comparing Roseto to nearby Bangor. As the original authors had predicted, as the Roseto cohort shed their Italian social structure and became more Americanized in the years following the initial study, heart disease rates increased, becoming similar to those of neighboring towns.
From 1954 to 1961, Roseto had nearly no heart attacks for the otherwise high-risk group of men 55 to 64, and men over 65 enjoyed a death rate of 1% while the national average was 2%. Widowers outnumbered widows, as well.
These statistics were at odds with a number of other factors observed in the community. They smoked unfiltered stogies, drank wine “with seeming abandon” in lieu of milk and soft drinks, skipped the Mediterranean diet in favor of meatballs and sausages fried in lard with hard and soft cheeses. The men worked in the slate quarries where they contracted illnesses from gases and dust. Roseto also had no crime, and very few applications for public assistance.
Dr. Wolf attributed Rosetans’ lower heart disease rate to lower stress. “‘The community,’ Wolf says, ‘was very cohesive. There was no keeping up with the Joneses. Houses were very close together, and everyone lived more or less alike.'” Elders were revered and incorporated into community life. Housewives were respected, and fathers ran the families.
Now, I’m not encouraging men to begin eating, drinking and smoking like the residents of Roseto; however, there is much that we can learn from their lifestyle. As stated above, their community was very cohesive. Neighbors looked out for one another. Elders were respected. While the women ran the households, the men were heads of families. The community was tight-knit. With this, few people felt alone or abandoned. All this lowered stress levels which protected people’s health. It’s interesting that this changed as they became more Americanized. As the kids grew up, they moved away. They also abandoned their traditional values. This weakened the cohesiveness of the community. With that, heart attack rates rose to the national average.
Thus, in addition to healthy diets, regular exercise, adequate rest, and a strong spiritual life, living in a strong cohesive community with traditional values can contribute greatly to promoting a long and healthy life.
Grossman, Ron; Leroux, Charles (October 11, 1996). “A New ‘Roseto Effect’: ‘People Are Nourished By Other People'”. Chicago Tribune. Roseto, Pa. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
Stout, Clarke; Morrow, Jerry; Brandt, Edward N. Jr.; Wolf, Stewart (1964). “Unusually Low Incidence of Death From Myocardial Infarction: Study of an Italian American Community in Pennsylvania”. JAMA. 188 (10): 845–849. doi:1001/jama.1964.03060360005001.
Egolf, B; Lasker, J; Wolf, S; Potvin, L (1992). “The Roseto Effect: A 50-Year Comparison of Mortality Rates” (PDF). American Journal of Public Health. 82 (8): 1089–1092. doi:2105/ajph.82.8.1089. PMC1695733 . PMID 1636828.
Positano, Rock (November 23, 2007). “The Mystery of the Rosetan People”. Huffington Post. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
Cassill, Kay (June 16, 1980). “Stress Has Hit Roseto, Pa., Once the Town Heart Disease Passed by”. People. 13 (24).