Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The View from the Handicap Section - “The Roseto Effect”

4th of July weekend 2010, I was in the handicap section in front of the orchestra accompanying my father who recently turned 60 and also had a stroke earlier in the year-- which gave us (almost) front row seats. To this day, my dad still fights with his own neurological connections in his brain to be able to move his left side. 

After the music and fireworks to celebrate our nations independence concluded,  I pushed my father’s wheelchair forward through the crowd to the exit- I found it impossible not to notice effects of chronic disease as it really did surround me literally at that moment.  The stark reality of the health struggles of majority of Americans was, to me, like a horror scene from a scary movie. But here I could not close my eyes as I typically would in the movie theater.  There had to be at least a 150 people moving slowly through the crowd to the waiting golf carts to transport the ill and handicap and their loved ones. These were all people facing the similar health crises as my family is facing. As I continued to push my father's wheel chair, looking over the head of the man, who when standing towers over me, the man I used to watch run and work out when I was a child, the man whom first introduced me to weight lifting and running-- was struggling to just to walk a short distance and now be considered handicap, it brought a heaviness that knocks the wind out of my breath still.
When I started speaking out more about the importance of diet, I also had a theory that diet is only 1/4 of the complete package of a healthy, vibrant life. I was in the infancy stage of trying to get a handle on what it truly means to be “healthy”.   As I looked, read, and talked to more people, I found I was not alone in my “theory”. There are doctors and researchers who already know/knew and have done the research (why don’t more on the ground, in the trenches Doctors know this?).
Dr. Dean Ornish is a huge proponent that diet is a factor but only one of the many components that help maintain health.  In his latest book, Spectrum he outlines 4 categories to health - what you eat, how you respond to stress, activity and love and support.

In one of his books, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the “The Roseto Effect. To summarize, in 1966, in Roseto, a small Pennsylvania town, where the inhabitants ate what I would call “grandma’s cooking” (it was typically fried in lard), they smoked and drank, spending their days in hard, hazardous labor. But the people in this town seemed nearly immune to cardiovascular disease (CVD) and other chronic diseases. The multi-generational study found that “mutual respect and cooperation contribute to the health and welfare of a community and its inhabitants, and that self- indulgence and lack of concern for others exert opposite influences”. These people died of heart attacks at half the national rate all because they cared about one another. They took the time to talk to one another, supported and educated their youth together and they thrived on the sense of community and secureness of knowing they were all in it as a whole.  Sociologist John Bruhn nearly 50 years after said, “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime.  They didn't have anyone on welfare.  Then we looked at peptic ulcers.  They didn't have any of those either.  These people were dying of old age.  That’s it.”

I think the policies and leadership of our government set the tone for our society. It sets the tone for how we treat one another. It was one of the original founders of Roseto, PA ( or google 'Roseto Affect') that set the tone for that community that lasted for decades, generations--leading them to have significantly less disease than the rest of our country. If we believe that we only need to look out for ourselves, as in the words of Ayn Rand, philosopher and writer, “that I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” we are guaranteeing a life full of watching neighbors and loved ones deal with illness. Just a basic biology and psychology class will teach that our babies die without love, support and so do children and adults. We cannot become 'something' without people who believe in us combined with our own effort. Those who believe that we need only look out for ourselves are short selling out our descendants, and possibly humanity.

It was just a moment, a rare moment as I was exiting a community event, when the realities of how many people who are living through their disease, diseases that are preventing them from living fully and vibrantly, diseases that could have been prevented if we just had taken the time to care enough to understand the human in humanity and ensured that our policies and practices protected the human condition, and cared enough about future generations to make the choices that protect them. 

As I have watched chronic disease affect so many people I care about; from neighbors, to loved ones, even my own young son, I've had to really examine my life, my views, and my political views.  I find myself advocating for a healthier culture and society. It may sound impossible, especially for a country like the United States where chronic disease is so rampant, where the idea of medical care for everyone, workers rights, decent wages, vacation time, work/life balance and basic respect for life, family and protecting each other may seem threatening especially by those who have come to believe the rhetoric that these ideals are "socialist",  but I have to believe it is not. Just a  look to Denmark , and their mixed capitalist economy, and I know its not impossible, just a long shot.