the mysterious effect

It’s been referenced in multiple publications… The New York Times, Huffington Post, People Magazine, “Next Door as It Is in Heaven”…

It’s been called an “effect” — even a “mystery.” It’s been talked about, written about, and studied for decades.

“It” is Roseto… Roseto, Pennsylvania… a small borough in eastern Pennsylvania, not far from the Jersey state line. It is named for the village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy, as the small town was largely settled by German, Dutch and Italian Americans. The mysterious effect of what happened in Roseto fits right within a current theme discussed here. This, my friends, is fascinating. Something within is good and right and true.

As said by authors Brad Brisco and Lance Ford…

“In the early 1960s a happenstance conversation over beers one evening between two doctors was the precursor to what has come to be know as ‘the Roseto effect.’ A local physician casually mentioned to the head of medicine at the University of Oklahoma that it seemed as if heart disease was rarer in his town of Roseto, a small village nestled in the hills of eastern Pennsylvania named for the Italian city that are the roots of its founders, in comparison to nearby cities. Researchers began an extensive study of Roseto, discovering a near-zero cardiac mortality rate for men aged fifty-five to sixty-four. For men above sixty-five, the local death rate was half the national average.

Why did this diminutive Italian-immigrant settlement boast such extraordinary heart health? Researchers assumed the answer lay in diet, exercise, and labor habits. But the investigators were stunned to discover this was not the case at all. The citizens drank plenty of wine and subsisted on classic Italian foods rich with cholesterol-laden pastas and sausages deep-fried in animal fat. Smoking was a daily habit for the men, who worked in back-breaking and toxic conditions in the local quarry.

None of this made sense to the researchers. The medical field was stumped. Microscopes would not be able to solve the mystery. So they brought in clipboard-carrying sociologists, who visited with town officials and went door to door to interview the Roseto citizens. Several unusual elements caught the eye of the researchers. For starters, the crime rate was zero, and there were no applications for public assistance. Yes, you read that right: no crime and no social services requested. Nada. Zilch. A rich community-wide social life was practiced, not divided along economic or educational lines. The haves and have-nots played, partied, and prayed together. The wealthy did not flaunt there affluence and seemed to make a conscious effort to avoid doing so. Local businesses received virtually all patronage of the townsfolk, despite larger stores nearby in surrounding towns. And though families were close-knit and took special care of their own, researchers discovered a spirit of assistance, friendly concern, and a tangible regard for neighbors and non-family as well.

It seemed to the examiners that no one was alone. The elderly were not placed into institutions and were actually ‘installed as informal judges and arbitrators in everyday life and commerce.’

The medical community was left to conclude that the secret of such astonishingly high cardiac health in individuals in Roseto was because of the community heart that beat for one another. The people in the community had healthy hearts because the community had a heart for one another.

Sadly, the Roseto effect would not last. In 1963 researchers keenly predicted that ‘as Rosetans became more Americanized (meaning less close, less modest and less interdependent), they would also become less healthy.’ The American Journal of Public Health revisited Roseto in 1992 and found Rosetans suffering the same statistical rate of heart disease as neighboring cities. What happened? Single-family homes had become the new norm, fences appeared, and churches moved to the outskirts of town. Community fabric wore thin, and with it the sheltering warmth it had provided.

The lessons from Roseto are remarkable. Roseto had been a competent community. While its inhabitants were no wealthier than the average American town, their quality of life was improved by their interconnectedness. Abundant communities have the capacity to take care of one another. They are convinced the basic everyday needs, along with many unexpected bumps in the road of life, can be met by the collective talent, skill, wisdom, and durable goods already present in the home and garages in their neighborhood.”

In other words, the secret to health wasn’t wealth, social status, or the size of their homes. It was not about diet or exercise, nor was there anything forced upon these residents. They simply chose to do life together. They chose to live in and promote community.


One Reply to “the mysterious effect”

  1. This is fascinating, and I too see this effect in my small town, about 60 miles north of Roseto. I have no idea of the heart health of the people in Peckville, but I do know that the number of elderly living quality, active lives beyond the age of 80 is staggering. Many are still living in their homes, driving, etc and I believe it is because of the community they have around them. I see them care for neighbors and relatives, socializing at the local coffee shops, attending and participating in local events. My dad still enjoys 9 holes of golf with his buddies, and up until last year, they had a weekly foursome, the youngest of which was 88. My dad was the “old guy” at 95!
    I can tell you one thing, stay way from the local grocery stores on “senior discount day”. It is jammed packed!

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