The Tailor Mouse

Eat More Chocolate, Lose More Fat?

Penn State earns an award this week for Most Fanciful Research Press Release. It was all about how chocolate might help with the health effects of excess fat. Of course, it was based on a study in mice. But the press release tells us that this research is relevant for humans because the dose used is “physiologically achievable.” The release offers an explanation from senior author Joshua Lambert:

“Doing the calculations, for people it works out to about 10 tablespoons of cocoa powder a day. Or, if you follow the directions on the Hershey’s box of cocoa powder, that’s about five cups of hot cocoa a day.”

Seriously? They want us to believe that five cups of hot cocoa per day will help us with obesity?

The Science

This fanciful hype from Penn State’s PR group is a shame, really. Because it distracts from some interesting research in mice. It wasn’t about treating obesity with hot cocoa. It was about pathways for biologically active substances in cocoa powder to influence fatty liver disease in mice. Specifically the researchers were looking at antioxidant responses and mitochondrial biogenesis.

Unfortunately, such scientific details don’t garner the clicks that chocolate for losing fat does.

Medicalizing Chocolate

Penn State is tapping into an impulse to medicalize chocolate. As the press release notes, chocolate is an “indulgence food” with high sugar and fat content. We love it. But consuming it brings – for some people – a burden of guilt linked to the possibility of over-indulgence. So pretending chocolate has health benefits is a useful tool for rationalization.

All of this recalls a scam from 2015, when a science journalist with a PhD cooked up a hoax with a bogus study about chocolate for weight loss. He got it published and hyped around the world. All because people want an excuse to eat chocolate. The journalist, John Bohannon, did it to prove a point.

Our suggestion is simple. Let chocolate be chocolate and don’t screw up the science with fanciful PR. Both science and chocolate will be better without that.

Click here for the study, here for the press release, and here here for an example of the unfortunate reporting it prompted. For perspective on medicalizing chocolate, click here.

The Tailor Mouse, illustration by Beatrix Potter / WikiArt

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April 23, 2021

2 Responses to “Eat More Chocolate, Lose More Fat?”

  1. April 23, 2021 at 6:15 am, Al Lewis said:

    Yeah, we’ve got that. One of the 8 “Most overrated foods.”

  2. April 24, 2021 at 1:48 pm, Mary-Jo said:

    If chocolate, cocoa, really worked for weight loss, I would be stick thin.