Industrial Revolution: Did chocolate contribute to obesity?

People have shifted their opinions on chocolate over time as production of chocolate has changed as well. Just as there has been a dichotomy on opinions on food, there has been a dichotomy of views on chocolate. Chocolate is considered either good or evil and the views shifted, especially since the era of the Industrial Revolution. In the United States, during the late 1800s and throughout the 1900s, there was a rise in manufacturing processes (Martin, 2016). As more machinery erupted, there was a rise in consumption rates of different foods throughout America. The increase in consumption of chocolate can be attributed to mechanization and innovative transportation during the Industrial Revolution. The growing demand and consumption of chocolate contributed to the increase in obesity rates in the United States during that time and those rates continue to rise today (Weiss).

During the 1700s, chocolate was an elite commodity because it was labor-intensive and costly to produce chocolate. People of higher economic status made up the bulk of people consuming chocolate (Coe & Coe, 1996). However, this began to change in the late 1800s with mechanization because chocolate could finally be produced in masses. Van Houten invented the hydraulic press in 1828, Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching process in 1879 (Martin, 2016). These are only two critical examples of machines that were developed during the Industrial Revolution. Mechanization eased companies’ problems with production because it decreased personnel needed to make the chocolate, decreased the time it took to make the chocolate, and overall increased production quantities of chocolate (Figure 1). Because chocolate was no longer expensive and was mass produced, the market of people that could afford chocolate grew immensely in the late 1800s (Atack, 1994).

Figure 1: This is the assembly process for making a chocolate bar. Every step became mechanized and less people were needed to work individual steps.

The accessibility of chocolate led to the growth of chocolate companies who manipulated chocolate for the growing production demand. Chocolate companies added many unhealthy ingredients to their chocolate products to make more profit. For example, the Hershey Company incorporated milk chocolate, instead of using chocolate as natural. The company also increased the amount of sugar put into chocolate. The addition of both of these unhealthy ingredients directly contributed to obesity rates. In fact, the number of people affected by obesity increased by thirty percent, which is correlated with the rise of mass production of chocolate during the Industrial Revolution. Mechanization also pushed for mass production of sugar during the same time, so sugar became a top ingredient for chocolate because it gave chocolate a sweater taste and was a good substitute.

Not only did chocolate become mass produced with large quantities of sugar added to it, chocolate was also spread throughout the country because of faster transportation innovations. The Industrial Revolution brought the railroad (Figure 2),

Figure 2: Example of train on railway.

so chocolate could be transported by train to different states (Freeman, 1997). Also, companies could get ingredients from different states or Mexico and have them more readily available (Martin, 2016). Mechanization produced more chocolate but transportation sourced chocolate to a much larger market.

Both of these reasons contributed to the increase in chocolate consumption throughout America and ultimately to obesity. It is understandable for people to view chocolate as a good and an evil because it has a wonderful taste and can provide benefits but it has been attributed with increase in obesity. Research shows that chocolate has many cardiovascular and antioxidant benefits but these benefits come from more pure forms of chocolate, higher in cacao content (Marie, 2016). Chocolate with higher percentages of cacao could be seen as a good super food (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Benefits of cacao. Chocolate with higher percentage of cacao would have more of these benefits.

The problem with the changes to chocolate during the Industrial Revolution is that companies began to add many unhealthy ingredients such as high amounts of sugar and caramel, which were the root causes of obesity.

If chocolate had remained pure during the Industrial Revolution, maybe it would not be considered good and evil. Unfortunately, companies like Hershey’s did change chocolate to be a completely different product than pure cacao chocolate, which has increased obesity in Americans. Today, some chocolate companies like Hershey’s recognize their negative impact on people’s health and are actively seeking ways to make their chocolate healthier. Hershey’s launched lower-fat chocolate candy (Figure 4) that would reduce their fat content by 30% compared to other milk chocolate (Schultz, 2012). Even with the good efforts of chocolate companies, one cannot help but wonder how obesity rates in America would be different without the effects during the Industrial Revolution.

Figure 4: Hershey’s 2012 chocolate. It contains 30% less fat than its typical milk chocolate.



Atack, J. (1994). A new economic view of american history. p. 282. ISBN 0-393-96315-2.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson

Marie, J. (2016). Antioxidant Benefits of Raw Cacao. SFGate.

Martin, C. (2016). Introduction to chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. Harvard College, Lecture.

Schultz, E.J. (2012). Hershey to launch lower-fat chocolate candy: Simple pleasures seeks position as indulgent lighter option. Advertising Age.

Weiss, J. Why we eat…and why we keep eating. Insulite Laboratories.


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