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Fifty Years Of Fat: News Coverage Of Trends Yhat Predate Obesity Prevalence

FLI 50 Years Of Fat Illustrations

ITHACA, N.Y. – What’s in the newspaper today can predict how skinny or fat a country’s population will be tomorrow, says new research published in BMC Public Health by Brian Wansink, Professor and Director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, and Brennan Davis, Associate Professor of Marketing from California State University at San Luis Obispo.

According to the study, food words trending today will predict a country’s obesity level by 2018 ­– just three years from now.

The study, Fifty Years of Fat: News Coverage of Trends that Predate Obesity Prevalence, analyzed of all the food words mentioned in The New York Times and The Times of London over the past 50 years 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 three years later, the number of salty snack mentions were unrelated.  Similarly, while the number of vegetable mentions were related to lower levels, the number of fruit mentions were unrelated.

“Newspapers are basically crystal balls for obesity,” said co-author Wansink.

“The more sweet snacks are mentioned and the less vegetables are mentioned, the fatter your country’s population is going to be in three years,” said lead author Davis. “But the less often they’re mentioned and the more vegetables are mentioned, the skinnier the public will be. “

These findings provide public health officials and epidemiologists with new tools to quickly assess the effectiveness of current obesity interventions.

“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,’” said Wansink.

The study was self-funded by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

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