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Eat chocolate to win the Nobel?

To produce just one more laureate,the nation would have to up its cocoa intake by a whopping 275 million pounds a year,according to Dr Franz Messerli,who did the analysis.

Of all the chocolate research out there,the most unabashed tribute to the “dark gold” has to be a study just published in one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals.

Drum roll,please: The higher a country’s chocolate consumption,the more Nobel laureates it spawns per capita,according to findings released today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

And guess who leads the pack? The Swiss,of course,closely followed by the Swedes and the Danes. The US is somewhere in the middle of chocolate consumption and Nobel Prize winners per capita. To produce just one more laureate,the nation would have to up its cocoa intake by a whopping 275 million pounds a year,according to Dr Franz Messerli,who did the analysis.

“The amount it takes,it’s actually quite stunning,you know,” Messerli chuckled. “The Swiss eat 120 bars — that is,3-ounce bars — per year,for every man,woman and child,that’s the average.”

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The Nobel Foundation in Stockholm is in the midst of announcing this year’s winners. It’s unclear whether the awards reflect chocolate intake,but previous laureates greeted the new research enthusiastically.

“I attribute essentially all my success to the very large amount of chocolate that I consume,” said Eric Cornell,an American physicist who shared the Nobel Prize in 2001.

“Personally I feel that milk chocolate makes you stupid,” he added. “Now dark chocolate is the way to go. It’s one thing if you want like a medicine or chemistry Nobel Prize,OK,but if you want a physics Nobel Prize it pretty much has got to be dark chocolate.”


Admittedly,both researchers are jesting. Messerli said the whole idea is absurd,although the data are legitimate and contain a few lessons about the fallibility of science.

pure chance?

Messerli,who runs the hypertension program at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York,came up with the idea for the study after seeing a study that linked flavonoids,a type of antioxidants present in cocoa and wine,to better scores on cognitive tests.

He began with industry data on chocolate intake in 23 countries and a list from Wikipedia ranking countries according to the number of Nobel laureates per capita.


“I started plotting this in a hotel room in Kathmandu,because I had nothing else to do,and I could not believe my eyes,” he told Reuters Health. All the countries lined up neatly on a graph,with higher chocolate intake tied to more laureates.

The link was so strong it made a joke out of a statistic that virtually all studies in medical journals hinge on the so-called p-value. Technically,this is the probability that a given result would be at least as “extreme” as the observation assuming,in this case,that there is no correlation.

The p-value Messerli calculated was 0.0001. “This means the odds of this being due to chance are less than one in 10,000,” he said.


When it comes to chocolate,several researchers have suggested dark varieties might benefit the brain,the heart and even help cut excess pounds.

“Certainly I have never seen anything that has made me start adding (chocolate) to my diet,” said Dr Yoni Freedhoff,an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa in Canada.


“We are looking for shortcuts to health,but healthy living does require effort. There really aren’t any remarkable shortcuts,” Freedhoff added. “When it comes to indulgences,we should indulge in them because we enjoy them and without expectations of health benefits.” Or of Nobel Prizes,it seems.

First published on: 13-10-2012 at 02:43:43 am
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