Trending Food Stories Help Predict Obesity Rates

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The Obesity Epidemic…RevealedYesterday’s news is old news. Except when it comes to predicting future obesity rates.

A new study published in the journal BMC Public Health suggests that food words trending in 2015 can predict the obesity levels in 2018. Researchers came to this conclusion after analyzing food words mentioned during the past 50 years in the New York Times newspaper and the last 17 years in the London Times.

They evaluated whether the mentions of health risk trends or consumption trends preceded obesity prevalence and if they were able to predict a country’s obesity levels in three years.

Researchers scanned the newspapers for specific food mentions that were coded into different categories: the less healthy foods—salty or sweet snacks—and healthy foods—fruits or vegetables. They analyzed whether the food mentions led to an increase in obesity prevalence or were mentioned following an increase in obesity occurrence for each the U.S. and the U.K.

The researchers wanted to know if the country was becoming obsessed with more sugary foods and less interested in vegetables and fruits at the same time—and whether these obsessive cultures were reflected in the number of articles mentioning these foods.

Study researchers found that mentioning sugary snacks was related to increased obesity prevalence, whereas mentioning fruits and vegetables showed a decrease in obesity prevalence. There was no connection between mentioning of salty snacks and predicting obesity prevalence three years later. Results were similar among both U.S. and U.K. populations.

Researchers conclude that using this information can be beneficial in guiding a population’s public health movement. By understanding the effects and major role that newspapers and media play in the future of a population’s health and weight status, the effectiveness of public health interventions can be better assessed.

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

Sources for Today’s Article:
“The New York Times can predict your future weight: Future obesity is predicted by today’s trending food stories,” ScienceDaily web site, July 20, 2015;
Davis, B., et al., “Fifty years of fat: news coverage of trends that predate obesity prevalence,” BMC Public Health 2015; 15(1): 629.