What You Read Today Will Affect Your Weight Years From Now

woman shocked by newspaper article

You've heard you are what you eat. (Duh.) Well, apparently, you're also what you READ. A new study shows that the articles we're all skimming over breakfast today can predict our weight years into the future.


So how does a newspaper (online or print) become a crystal ball? A brand-spankin'-new study in the journal BMC Public Health explains that media sources serve as "time-stamped snapshots of cultural trends."

And so, curious scientists set out to investigate if mentions of particular foods in the media -- in this case, fifty YEARS' worth of articles in the New York Times -- predated our nation's alarming trend of weight gain.

After all, obesity rates in the U.S. have skyrocketed from just over 13 percent in 1960 to 33.8 percent in 2010. Looking back, did we have any warning we were getting too big for our bodies?

Well, if the Dunkaroos, Push Pops, Surge soft drinks, and Oreo O's breakfast cereal we shoved into our faces back in the '90s were any indication, um, yes. Yes, we did!

Researchers from Cornell University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo counted how many times words like "lettuce" or "potato chip" were mentioned in NYT stories (not ads) over the years. (They also looked at the London Times, to see if the same trend affected people in the U.K.)

They divided food mentions into two categories: "Healthy Foods" -- i.e., fruits and vegetables -- and "Unhealthy Foods," like sugary or salty snacks. What they found is disturbing.

Over the last 50 years, articles mentioning veggies plunged by 46 percent, while those containing fruits rose 92 percent. Snack food mentions, on the other hand, were off the charts. Sugary snack mentions rose 310 percent. Salty foods, 417 percent.

The increase of junk food mentions in the London paper also supported an association with obesity in the U.K.

Researchers suggest that link could be helpful in getting public health messages or "interventions" to us normal folk. (If only we'd been warned away from Dunkaroos!)

Hopefully, our current awareness and desire for healthy foods like kale, kimchi, and cauliflower will bode well for our kids in the future. Whether that's enough to overcome our obsession with sliders, cupcakes, and cronuts, though, remains to be seen.


Image via auremar/shutterstock

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