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Chocolate cravings: Not due to hormones, says study

By Stephen Daniells , 09-Sep-2009

A woman’s craving for chocolate as she approaches the menopause is not down to hormones, but more a reaction to the stress and discomfort of the menopause, suggests new research.

While food cravings are experienced by over 75 per cent of both men and women, the increased incidence in the fairer sex, particularly around the time of the menopause and particularly for chocolate, has “not been explored”, according to scientists from the University of Pennsylvania.

Writing in the journal Appetite, Julia Hormes and Paul Rozin report that, if the cravings were due to hormonal effects, then a difference in the incidence of cravings of about 38 per cent would be expected between peri-menopausal women (around the time of the menopause) and post-menopausal women.

However, a decrease of only 13.4 per cent was noted, suggesting that female reproductive hormones are not the principal cause of peri-menstrual chocolate craving”, they said.

According to a report from Datamonitor, adult women are predicted to account for almost 260 million consumers by 2010 in the US and Western Europe. Increases in women's spending power, allied to their continued dominance of the household shopping in multiple-occupant households, women are reported to account for an estimated 75 per cent of all consumer packaged goods spending, says Datamonitor.

Chocolate manufacturers have enjoyed great success in targeting products to female consumers. Indeed, Mars Snackfood claims to have had considerable success with targeting its premium chocolate brand in the US, Dove, at female consumers in convenience stores.

Therefore, understanding how women react to products can lead to better positioning and marketing of products to this key demographic.

Study details

Hormes and Rozin surveyed 280 pre- and post-menopausal alumnae of the University of Pennsylvania and divided them into three distinct groups with average ages of 46, 63, and 82. Women were asked to record their cravings, including whether or not their chocolate cravings were related to their menstrual cycle.

“Post-menopausal women show only a very modest decrease in chocolate craving,” report the researchers. “This modest decrease, in the face of no drop in the liking for chocolate, may be due in some small part to the absence of a direct effect of female hormone changes in these women.

“Our results suggest that the perimenstrum is linked to chocolate craving because for some women, chocolate is a way to deal with the stress or dysphoria associated with menstruation,” they note.

“Use of chocolate to cope with or compensate for such experiences is a culturally supported response in North America.

“In North America, where chocolate has the property of being a ‘forbidden food’ for many women, discomfort may license its consumption,” concluded Hormes and Rozin.

What's happening?

Commenting on the ingredients in chocolate, the researchers noted that chocolate undoubtedly contains a lot of bioactive ingredients, including stimulants like caffeine, theobromine, and tyramine. However, unlike coffee, where consumers often refer to the pharmacological effects, consumers usually note that the sensory aspects of chocolate are the most attractive, "including its melt-in-your-mouth texture, sweetness and fragrant aroma".

"We believe that the preponderance of evidence favors a sensory account for the popularity of chocolate as a form of self-reward or indulgence, and/or as a means of coping with stress by inducing pleasure," said Hormes and Rozin.

Source: Appetite
Volume 53, Issue 2, Pages 256-259
“Perimenstrual chocolate craving. What happens after menopause?”
Authors: J.M. Hormes, P. Rozin

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