Is American Life Too Impersonal Today?

Even with all of our social media, Americans seem more distant and recluse than ever.

Studies now show that lack of family support and social and psychological stress increase health and heart attack risk factors much more than poor diet, smoking, and lack of exercise.

Roseto, a borough in Pennsylvania, is named after the village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy, and it’s a most interesting little town.

Long ago, Roseto was mainly settled by South Italian immigrants who worked the slate quarries. But what really makes Roseto interesting is that the town was the subject of a 50 year medical case study in the fields of cardiology and sociology called “The Roseto Effect”.

Dr. Steward Wolf, and internist, became captivated by the community’s low rate of heart disease when a colleague, who had a medical practice in Roseto, mentioned that he had never treated anyone under the age of 55 for heart disease. There was only 1 death per 1000 people, less than 50% lower than their neighboring towns or the rest of the country. Upon hearing this in 1961, Dr. Wolf, head of the Department of Medicine at the University of Oklahoma, decided to visit Roseto.

This is what he found. Compared to Roseto’s neighbors, mortality rates were indeed unbelievably, low and people suffered nearly 35-40% less heart attacks.

But what he really discovered was a community rich with Amore!

The citizens of Roseto valued strong family life and nurturing communities. Generations of church going families had grown up in the same home and often shared meals. The tight community was rich in values, and strong family ties with solid father examples, highly esteemed stay-at-home moms, and honored grandparents.

People lived simply; they appreciated each other and enjoyed living close to their neighbors.

Dr. Wolf found that though the people were heavier, didn’t exercise much, and ate all the taboo heart foods, their heart attack and death rates were lower than anywhere else in America!

In 1963 it was anticipated that if the people’s lifestyle was to change and their social values faded, their heart disease rates would increase.

Sure enough, as the years passed the family life and sense of togetherness that had given them the longevity of life began to erode, and as the parents and grandparents began to die off, the younger generation began to leave Roseto in search of college careers. Stress escalated. Church turnout plunged. Simple pleasures were traded in for fancier cars and homes.

Dr. Wolf’s last report in 1975 indicated Roseto’s heart attack rate had greatly increased since 1961 and was no different than the rest of the country.

I was recently at my local Fred Meyers and had a conversation with a woman who was complaining about the ridiculously high price for organic hot dogs. I strongly agreed. We got to talking about American food.

“I am half-Romanian and half-Italian,” she said in her heavy accent, “in Italy, nobody goes to doctors or hospitals unless they are very old. People just don’t get sick; they stay healthy and live a long life. I think it’s this American food with all its chemicals.” she said lowering her voice.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love America, but the food here—it took me three months to eat this American bread. No one would touch food with all these chemicals in Italy.”

I wholeheartedly agreed with her about the food but as she spoke, with her being half-Italian and all, I couldn’t help but think about the Roseto story I had recently read.,,20076736,00.html

By ~ Elizabeth Yalian 2014 ©







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