Chocolate and Nobel Prizes

How would you like to win a Nobel prize?  If that's your objective, maybe you should start consuming more chocolate, and try to enlist everyone you know to do so as well, since as Rick and I discuss on PodMed this week, there's a linear relationship between chocolate consumption on a population level and the number of Nobel prizes a country wins.  That's according to a study with a really great graph, seen here, in this week's New England Journal of Medicine.  (And you always thought those august types at the Massachusetts Medical Society lacked a sense of humor...).  Let's take a closer look.

The hypothesis of this study was that dietary consumption of flavonoids, which are found in abundance in citrus fruits, gingko, berries, some types of tea, and chocolate, especially the dark variety, is known to delay the onset of dementia, and reduce the incidence of stroke, cancer and heart disease, depending on which studies you find believable, so is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and measures of intellectual function as evidenced by receipt of a Nobel prize?

Data from Wikipedia was used to assess numbers of Nobel prizes per capita for 23 countries. Population figures were calculated in tens of millions per Nobel winner, since clearly there are many more people simply residing in a country than there are Nobel winners in that country. Data on chocolate consumption in these countries was gathered from three different organizations with a vested interest in same.   When these data sets were plotted against each other a linear positive relationship emerged, with those countries consuming more chocolate having more Nobel winners to their credit.  Interestingly, there was one outlier: Sweden.  With 32 Nobel laureates during the study period, the country outperformed their predicted 14 prizes based on chocolate consumption.  One wonders, of course, about selection bias?

Questions I have that aren't addressed in the study are the type of chocolate consumption necessary to achieve a greater number of Nobels.  Is milk, my own personal favorite, okay, or is dark chocolate the only option?  Do nuts or fruits in a chocolate product dilute its impact? Clearly, as Rick points out in the podcast, this is an observational study only, and generates a hypothesis that can be tested subsequently in that time-honored way: prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled, and so on, and most likely begun in childhood and continued for many years.  Kind of like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," a lifetime supply of chocolate, perhaps underwritten by industry...

On a somewhat more serious note, the author of the study discloses his own daily chocolate consumption as revelation of a possible conflict of interest. On a much more serious note, other topics this week include hormone replacement therapy, as published in the British Medical Journal but also another study presented at the North American Menopause Society, fibulin and mesothelioma in NEJM, and a novel device to support lungs for transplant in the Lancet.  Until next week, y'all live well.

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