Cornell researcher says we can predict obesity
Category: The Big Picture

Cornell researcher says we can predict obesity

From the Cornell Food and Brand Lab:

After analyzing 50 years of all the food words mentioned in major newspapers like the New York Times and London Times, researchers found that the food words trending today in 2015 can predict a country’s obesity level in three years – in 2018. The study was published in the journal BMC Public Health by Brennan Davis, PhD, Califonia Polytechnic State University, and Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

“The more sweet snacks are mentioned and the fewer fruits and vegetables that are mentioned in your newspaper, the fatter your country’s population is going to be in 3 years, according to trends we found from the past fifty years,” said lead author, Brennan Davis, Associate Professor of Marketing from California State University at San Luis Obispo. “But the less often they’re mentioned and the more vegetables are mentioned, the skinnier the public will be.”

They analyzed all of the different foods mentioned in stories in the New York Times (and London Times) and statistically correlated them with each country’s annual Body Mass Index, or BMI, a measure of obesity. While the number of mentions of sweet snacks were related to higher obesity levels 3 years later, the number of salty snack mentions were unrelated. The number of vegetable and fruit mentions were related to lower levels of obesity three years later.

“Newspaper’s are basically crystal balls for obesity,” said coauthor, Brian Wansink. “This is consistent with earlier research showing that positive messages— ‘Eat more vegetables and you’ll lose weight,’—resonate better with the general public than negative messages, such as ‘eat fewer cookies.’”

Predicting a country’s obesity levels in three years might be easily done today using a newspaper. These findings provide public health officials and epidemiologists with new tools to quickly assess the effectiveness of current obesity interventions. If we wish to estimate obesity rates in three years, the best indicator will be what is mentioned in the paper today.

Image credit: Image courtesy of Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

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