Newspapers help predict obesity rates: Study

By: Emily Lunardo | Health News | Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 12:02 AM

childhood obesityLooks like it’s time to read between the lines. A new analysis indicates our newspaper reading habits can predict future obesity.

A study conducted by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab analyzed 50 years of popular newspapers (The New York Times and London Times) for food-related content. The study suggests food words trending now could help predict obesity rates in 2018.

“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 Brennan Davis, study author.

“But the less often they’re mentioned and the more vegetables are mentioned, the skinnier the public will be.”

Researchers analyzed food words in newspapers over the course of 50 years. The occurrence of the words was statistically correlated with the annual Body Mass Index (BMI) for the country at the time.

Sweet snacks mentioned led for higher obesity rates three years later. On the other hand, mention of salty snacks had no relevance to BMI. If fruits and vegetables were more often mentioned, BMI would be lower three years later.

The new findings can help researchers work on intervention methods to combat obesity. Public health officials don’t have to look any further than their local paper to catch on to obesity trends.

“Newspaper’s are basically crystal balls for obesity,” said co-author 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.”

The findings were published in the journal BMC Public Health.


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