Researchers hypothesized, and later confirmed1that what set Roseto apart was that it “displayed a high level of ethnic and social homogeneity, close family ties, and cohesive community relationships.”
This community of 1,600 people was founded by Italian immigrants in the late nineteenth century. And until around the late 1960s, the people in Roseto still lived as if they were in Italy, especially in terms of their social relationships, religion, and multigenerational homes. In a 2015 PBS documentary series about Italian Americans, filmmakers went to Roseto and spoke with elders who had been around for the original study.
In fact, they were there to document what community members call the Big Time, an annual event that gathers together people with ties to Roseto, almost like a giant family reunion. There are parades, parties, and potlucks with lots of—you guessed it—pasta. Beyond the pure enjoyment of food and wine, what is so clear in the documentary is the real secret to the good life—care and connection.
Today, Roseto resembles the rest of America—it’s no longer a cultural island—and so do its rates of cardiovascular disease. Since the early sixties, when Roseto’s social cohesion began to break down, the mortality rates from heart disease also rose in the younger generation of Rosetans. The landmark study of Roseto that spanned 50 years tracked both mortality rates and the changing social traditions, confirming all of the earlier findings of other studies: older generations of Rosetans who benefited from that close-knit community in midcentury were far more protected from heart disease than their children.
This phenomenon of increased heart health in tight-knit communities is now referred to as the Roseto effect, and the studies’ core findings about the importance of social connection have been affirmed again and again throughout the years.