Physical attractiveness may indicate good health, according to new findings published in the American Journal of Human Biology. The study found that people who were rated as above-average in attractiveness tended to be noticeably healthier compared to those considered average-looking when assessed 10 years later.
The motivation behind this study was to investigate the relationship between physical attractiveness and health outcomes. Previous studies have suggested that attractive facial characteristics are more likely to be found in healthy individuals, and people with attractive faces are often perceived as healthier. However, the reliability of these associations between physical attractiveness and health has been questioned from both theoretical and methodological perspectives.
By conducting this study, the researchers aimed to provide a better understanding of the relationship between physical attractiveness and health, taking into consideration potential confounding factors.
“My co-author and I were interested in this topic because there is a popular notion both in the evolutionary scholarly perspective and popular culture that health and physical attractiveness are linked, but we could not find any decisive evidence on this issue,” said study author Alexi Gugushvili, a professor of sociology at the University of Oslo.
To conduct the study, the researchers used data from the United States National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), which is a longitudinal study of a nationally representative sample of adolescents.
The physical attractiveness of the participants was rated by interviewers on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 representing “very unattractive” and 5 representing “very attractive.” The researchers analyzed the association between physical attractiveness and health outcomes using measures of cardiometabolic risk, which reflect individuals’ immune, metabolic, and cardiovascular health. CMR was calculated based on biomarkers from blood tests and medical examinations.
The researchers also took into account other factors that could influence the relationship between physical attractiveness and health, such as socioeconomic status (education, occupation, income), personality traits, intelligence, and self-rated health and chronic health conditions reported by the participants.
The researchers found that individuals rated as having above-average attractiveness had significantly better health compared to those considered average-looking after a 10-year follow-up. Importantly, people who were rated as attractive had lower cardiometabolic risk even after considering various predictors of health.
“Perhaps our key takeaway message from this study is that if you see a physically attractive person and know nothing more about them, 10 years later they will be healthier, on average, than those whom you wouldn’t classify as physically attractive,” Gugushvili told PsyPost.
BMI had a moderating effect on the relationship between physical attractiveness and health. In particular, higher BMI decreased the effect of attractiveness on health outcomes. However, the association between attractiveness and cardiometabolic risk remained statistically significant even after accounting for the impact of BMI.
Interestingly, the study also found that being rated as very unattractive was associated with lower cardiometabolic risk. This finding aligns with previous research indicating that very unattractive individuals may perform better in various life outcomes. For example, a study published in 2018 found that “very unattractive” individuals tended to have high incomes, earning significantly more than unattractive respondents and sometimes earning even more than average-looking and attractive respondents.
But the researchers noted some limitations, such as the potential biases introduced by interviewer-assessed physical attractiveness and the possibility of reverse causation between physical attractiveness and health.
“We measured health outcomes with an allostatic load which can be described as the cumulative burden of chronic stress and life events on human bodies, but future studies can also explore the links between physical attractiveness and mortality outcomes,” Gugushvili said.
However, despite these limitations, the main finding of the study is that individuals who are described as attractive tend to have better health after a 10-year assessment period. This finding aligns with evolutionary perspectives. Overall, the study provides new evidence supporting the idea that physical attractiveness is related to health, although the exact mechanisms underlying this relationship are still speculative.
The study, “Physical attractiveness and cardiometabolic risk“, was authored by Grzegorz Bulczak and Alexi Gugushvili.