Roseto Effect

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The Roseto effect is the phenomenon by which a close-knit community experiences a reduced rate of heart disease. From 1954 to 1961, the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania 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, too. These statistics were at odds with a number of other factors observed in the community. They smoked unfiltered cigars, 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 little to no crime, and very few applications for public assistance.

It was first noticed in 1961 when the local doctor from Roseto encountered Dr. Stewart Wolf, then head of Medicine of the University of Oklahoma, and they discussed, over a couple of beers, the unusually low rate of myocardial infarction in Roseto compared with other locations. Many investigations followed. Wolf attributed Rosetans’ lower heart disease rate to lower stress. ‘The community 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. A 50-year study comparing nearby towns of Bangor and Nazareth found that heart disease rose in the Bangor cohort as it shed their Italian social structure and became more Americanized.

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