It seems that countries with the highest regular chocolate intake per person have a proportionally greater number of Nobel Prize, winners, researchers from Kings College London and the Wellcome Trust have revealed in a new book.

The NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) has an article on this book. It really does seem that more *Nobel laureates emanate from countries with the highest per capita chocolate consumption. Proportionally, Switzerland has one of the highest number of Nobel Prize winners, if you calculate from a percentage of the total population. Switzerland, per capita, is also the highest chocolate consumer in the world.

* A Nobel laureate = A Nobel prizewinner

If we follow this parallel of chocolate consumption and Nobel laureates, the Swedes and Danes also do very well. For some reason (attempts to explain below), Sweden has a disproportionally high number of Nobel laureates.

The USA obviously has many Nobel Prize winners, because its population is huge. But proportionally, when winners per million population are taken into account, and total cocoa consumption is calculated, the USA is somewhere in the middle. Americans do eat a lot of “chocolate” – but in countries where chocolate is taken really seriously, you have to calculate consumption in pure cocoa. American chocolate bars are full of milk, cream and other stuff, and do not have much cocoa in them. In fact, most Swiss consumers would not consider the majority of US “chocolates” as such.

Dark chocolate Blanxart
Swiss chocolate has a much higher cocoa content than most US chocolates

The Swiss eat 120 bars of Swiss chocolate per year per capita; that means every man, woman and child. A bar is three ounces (85 grams).

The amount of cocoa required to increase the number of Nobel prizewinners in a country is surprisingly high.

Author, Dr. Franz Messerli, who works at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals, said:

“The amount it takes, it’s actually quite stunning, you know.”

Messerli on the one hand calls the whole idea of chocolate consumption and Nobel Prize winning chances as a little absurd, on the other hand, however, he emphasizes that the data is indisputable.

Dietary flavonoids, which exist in large quantities in plant-based food, have been shown to enhance cognitive function, Messerli explains. Studies have shown that the regular intake of flavonoids have been linked with the reduction in the risk of dementia.

Cocoa contains flavanols, a subclass of flavonoids. Flavanols are also present in red wine, green tea and some fruits. Flavanols have been shown to slow down cognitive performance deficits that occur with aging. In fact, some studies indicate that they may actually help reverse the reductions in cognitive performance.

Dietary flavanols have been demonstrated to lower blood pressure and to improve endothelial function. Animal studies have shown that flavanols really do improve cognitive performance.

If chocolate consumption appears to improve cognitive function, does this mean that whole populations with high chocolate consumption have a higher proportion of smart people?

Messerli wondered whether there might be a correlation between national cocoa consumption per capita and the positive effect on the whole population’s cognitive function. As far as he knows, there is no data anywhere which provides information on cognitive function on a national scale. So he went for a surrogate end point – by comparing the total number of Nobel laureates as a proportion of each nation’s total population.

Messerli downloaded a list of countries ranked in terms of Nobel Prize winners per capita from Wikipedia. As the total population of a country is substantially higher than the number of its nationals who were awarded Nobel prizes, he multiplied the number by 10 million. Therefore, the figures he came up with were Nobel laureates per 10 million people in a country.

Messerli included data on all Nobel laureates until October 10, 2011. He also examined chocolate consumption per capita in 22 countries.

There was a close association between chocolate consumption per year per capita and the number of Nobel prize winners per 10 million people in each country.

Switzerland came top in chocolate consumption and very high up in Nobel laureates. It was also calculated that in order to get an extra Nobel laureate, chocolate consumption would need to increase by 0.4kg per person per year in a country. In the USA, this would mean an increase of 125 million kg per year.

Messerli said that there is, surprisingly, a “powerful correlation between chocolate intake per capita and the number of Nobel laureates in various countries. The principal finding of this study is a surprisingly powerful correlation between chocolate intake per capita and the number of Nobel laureates in various countries. Of course, a correlation between X and Y does not prove causation but indicates that either X influences Y, Y influences X, or X and Y are influenced by a common underlying mechanism. However, since chocolate consumption has been documented to improve cognitive.”

He emphasized that these findings can only lead to a number of hypotheses, and will need further studies in a prospective, randomized trial, if one is ever possible.

Sweden is an exception in these findings. According to its chocolate consumption of 6.4kg per capita per year, it should have produced 14 Nobel Prize winners, but it has 32. Messerli suggests that either the Nobel Committee, being Scandinavian is biased towards its own people, or that Swedes are particularly sensitive to the cognitive benefits offered by chocolate consumption.

It is possible that the whole thing is the other way round. Perhaps whole populations are already enjoying higher cognitive function, and being so are aware of the benefits of flavanols in dark chocolate and consequently consume chocolate more.

Another hypothesis is that countries with high chocolate consumption already have advanced economies and education systems. Possibly such economies eat more chocolate – i.e. chocolate consumption is higher in sophisticated economies. These countries’ higher-than-average number of Nobel Prize winners per 10 million inhabitants has everything to do with their education systems, etc., and nothing to do with chocolate.

In an Abstract in the same journal, Messerli concluded:

“Chocolate consumption enhances cognitive function, which is a sine qua non for winning the Nobel Prize, and it closely correlates with the number of Nobel laureates in each country. It remains to be determined whether the consumption of chocolate is the underlying mechanism for the observed association with improved cognitive function.”

Number of Nobel Laureates per 10 million people:

  • Faroe Islands – 202.090
  • Saint Lucia – 123.321
  • Luxembourg – 39.287
  • Iceland – 31.930
  • Sweden – 31.855
  • Switzerland – 31.544
  • Denmark – 25.255
  • Austria – 24.332
  • Norway – 23.368
  • United Kingdom – 18.875
  • Timor-Leste – 17.488
  • Israel – 13.174
  • Ireland – 12.706
  • Germany – 12.668
  • Netherlands – 11.356
  • United States – 10.706
  • Hungary – 9.038
  • France – 8.990
  • European Union – 8.932
  • Cyprus – 8.787
  • Belgium – 8.622
  • Trinidad and Tobago – 8.154

Written by Christian Nordqvist