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Like this presentation? Why not share! The death rate from all causes in Roseto, in fact, was 30 to 35 percent lower than expected.
Wolf brought in a friend of his, a sociologist from Oklahoma named John Bruhn, to help him. This happened more than fifty years ago, but Bruhn still had a sense of amazement in his voice as he described what they found. Then we looked at peptic ulcers.
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
These people were dying of old age. Roseto was an outlier. The Rosetans were cooking with lard instead of with the much healthier olive oil they had used back in Italy. Pizza in Italy was a thin crust with salt, oil, and perhaps some tomatoes, anchovies, or onions. Pizza in Pennsylvania was bread dough plus sausage, pepperoni, salami, ham, and sometimes eggs. Sweets such as biscotti and taralli used to be reserved for Christmas and Easter; in Roseto they were eaten year-round.
Nor was this a town where people got up at dawn to do yoga and run a brisk six miles. The Pennsylvanian Rosetans smoked heavily and many were struggling with obesity. So he tracked down relatives of the Rosetans who were living in other parts of the United States to see if they shared the same remarkable good health as their cousins in Pennsylvania.
He then looked at the region where the Rosetans lived. Was it possible that there was something about living in the foothills of eastern Pennsylvania that was good for their health? The two closest towns to Roseto were Bangor, which was just down the hill, and Nazareth, a few miles away. These were both about the same size as Roseto, and both were populated with the same kind of hardworking European immigrants.
The Story of Success
For men over sixty-five, the death rates from heart disease in Nazareth and Bangor were three times that of Roseto. Another dead end. It had to be Roseto itself. As Bruhn and Wolf walked around the town, they figured out why. They looked at how the Rosetans visited one another, stopping to chat in Italian on the street, say, or cooking for one another in their backyards.
They saw how many homes had three generations living under one roof, and how much respect grandparents commanded.
They went to mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and saw the unifying and calming effect of the church. They counted twenty-two separate civic organizations in a town of just under two thousand people. They picked up on the particular egalitarian ethos of the community, which discouraged the wealthy from flaunting their success and helped the unsuccessful obscure their failures. In transplanting the paesani culture of southern Italy to the hills of eastern Pennsylvania, the Rosetans had created a powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating them from the pressures of the modern world.
The Rosetans were healthy because of where they were from , because of the world they had created for themselves in their tiny little town in the hills. When Bruhn and Wolf first presented their findings to the medical community, you can imagine the kind of skepticism they faced.
They went to conferences where their peers were presenting long rows of data arrayed in complex charts and referring to this kind of gene or that kind of physiological process, and they themselves were talking instead about the mysterious and magical benefits of people stopping to talk to one another on the street and of having three generations under one roof.
Living a long life, the conventional wisdom at the time said, depended to a great extent on who we were—that is, our genes. It depended on the decisions we made—on what we chose to eat, and how much we chose to exercise, and how effectively we were treated by the medical system.
No one was used to thinking about health in terms of community. Wolf and Bruhn had to convince the medical establishment to think about health and heart attacks in an entirely new way: