Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Roseto Effect

Gladwell's contribution to the community discussion

Recently my urban planning colleague Megan Carr sent a story of a remarkable town a hundred miles west of New York. The close-knit, Italian-American inhabitants named the town after their ancestral home in Italy. It is a small town with a strong sense of community. It also has a special kind of story; for a very long time it had a virtual absence of heart disease. As it adopted modern habits, it fell from grace somewhat. But even today, it remains remarkable.

The town is called Roseto. It is well known in medical circles as the Roseto Effect.

The public most recently came to know Roseto because of a story in Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating book "Outliers: the story of success".

In a November speech Gladwell describes Roseto in which one researcher:

"realized he’d stumbled on a place where the sense of community was so strong, and so powerful, and so supportive, that it enabled people who lived there to effectively deal with the stress of modern life and live a kind of magical life. They had created community bonds that were so extraordinary that they were able to overcome the pattern of illness and mortality in American life."

It is a great story. It is all about the very things most important to community developers, prevention specialists, police, and anyone else interested in safe places.

Gladwell is clearly an ally of what we are trying to achieve. Read Gladwell's speech HERE.

3 comments:

  1. Well said Greg. Also, along this note an interesting study recently came out from the University of New Hampshire that shows walkability as a factor in communities having higher levels of trust and community participation; i.e. social capital. For more information on this and related research, Kaid Benfield of NRDC wrote up a nice overview in his blog. http://ow.ly/3Ep7V

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  2. That's a great reference! The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) is another interesting group with important messages in the SafeGrowth journey. I always learn a great deal from the talented folks with public design and walkability expertise (such as you). Thanks for that Megan.

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  3. There is increasing evidence for viral infections (especially from enteroviruses) precipitating heart attacks. Enteroviruses are respiratory viruses, which can be caught through kissing or close social contact.

    The Roseto Italians lived in a traditional close-knit community with probably lower levels of contact with outsiders, and most likely with lower levels of sexual and amorous promiscuity than the average American. This behavior may well have protected the Roseto Italians from picking up viral infections, thereby reducing their heart attack risk.

    There are around 460,000 fatal heart attacks per year in the US, with 40% of these (184,000 deaths) linked to enterovirus infections (reference here: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18061067 ).

    So any lifestyle that can prevent the spread of enteroviruses in a community will likely result in lower rates of heart attacks.

    This is not to say that good food and and a supportive family network don't play a role in reducing heart attacks as well; but the fact is that enteroviral infections are likely the major mechanism of precipitating heart attacks.

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