Chocolate-loving countries produce more Nobel laureates

Megan Brooks

October 10, 2012

Boston, MA - A self-avowed chocolate lover says he has 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 [1].

"Since 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 Dr Franz H Messerli (Columbia University, New York City) in an "occasional notes" article published online October 10, 2012 in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

"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."

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=0.791, p<0.0001) between per-capita chocolate consumption and the number of Nobel laureates per 10 million persons.

Taking his theory even further, 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 one. For the US, that would amount to 125 million kg per year. The "minimally effective" dose of chocolate, he argues, seems to hover around 2 kg per year. That said, the "cumulative dose of chocolate that is needed to sufficiently increase the odds of being asked to travel to Stockholm is uncertain."

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

Messerli surmises that either the Nobel committee in Stockholm has some inherent bias when assessing candidates or the Swedes "are particularly sensitive to chocolate, and even minuscule amounts greatly enhance their cognition."

It's possible that people with "superior cognitive function" are more cognizant of the health benefits of flavanols in dark chocolate and therefore consume more of it than others. 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," he concludes.

Switzerland—conspicuously—emerged as the top performer in terms of both the number of Nobel laureates and chocolate consumption; Messerli himself hails from Switzerland, a fact omitted in his formal disclosure statement. He does, however, acknowledge "regular daily chocolate consumption, mostly but not exclusively in the form of Lindt's dark varieties."

The NEJM's "occasional notes" section is described by the journal as "accounts of personal experiences or descriptions of material from outside the usual areas of medical research and analysis."

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