Chocolate-Loving Countries Produce More Nobel Laureates

Megan Brooks

October 10, 2012

October 10, 2012 — A novel study found a "surprisingly powerful" correlation between how much chocolate a country's inhabitants consume and the number of Nobel laureates it produces: the more chocolate consumed, the more Nobel prizes awarded.

"[S]ince chocolate consumption has been documented to improve cognitive function, it seems most likely that in a dose-dependent way, chocolate intake provides the abundant fertile ground needed for the sprouting of Nobel laureates," writes Franz H. Messerli, MD, in an "Occasional Notes" article published online October 10 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Because chocolate consumption could hypothetically improve brain power not only in individuals but also in a whole population, Dr. Messerli, from St. Luke's–Roosevelt Hospital and Columbia University in New York City, who is a chocolate lover himself, wondered whether there would be a correlation between a country's level of chocolate consumption and its population's cognitive function.

"Conceivably," he explains, "the total number of Nobel laureates per capita could serve as a surrogate end point reflecting the proportion with superior cognitive function and thereby give us some measure of the overall cognitive function of a given country."

To investigate, Dr. Messerli obtained a list of countries ranked by Nobel laureates per capita and then found data on per capita chocolate consumption in those countries.

He found a significant linear correlation (r = .791, P < .0001) between per capita chocolate consumption and the number of Nobel laureates per 10 million persons.

Dr. Messerli estimates that it would take about 0.4 kg of chocolate per capita per year to increase the number of Nobel laureates in a given country by 1. For the United States, that would amount to 125 million kg per year.

The "minimally effective" dose of chocolate seems to hover around 2 kg per year, he says. Still, the "cumulative dose of chocolate that is needed to sufficiently increase the odds of being asked to travel to Stockholm is uncertain," he writes.

And Sweden, Dr. Messerli notes, emerged as the "only possible outlier." Given the country's per capita chocolate consumption of 6.4 kg per year, he explains, "we would predict that Sweden should have produced a total of about 14 Nobel laureates, yet we observe 32."

Dr. Messerli surmises that either the Nobel Committee in Stockholm has some inherent bias when assessing candidates or the Swedes are just particularly sensitive to the possible brain-boosting benefits of chocolate.

It is possible that people of higher intelligence are more cognizant of the health benefits of flavanols in dark chocolate and therefore consume more of it than others. Dr. Messerli also notes that his data are based on country averages, not the specific chocolate intake of individual Nobel laureates.

"Obviously, these findings are hypothesis-generating only," Dr. Messerli concludes.

Nonetheless, they do suggest that chocolate consumption enhances cognitive function, which is a sine qua non for winning the Nobel Prize, and it closely correlates with the number of Nobel laureates in each country.

Dr. Messerli discloses daily chocolate consumption, mostly but not exclusively in the form of Lindt's dark varieties.

N Engl J Med. Published online October 10, 2012.