Dropping just a few pounds has been proven to have health benefits, but a new Canadian study says there is a magic number for looking and feeling healthier and more attractive.
Researchers from the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychology exposed participants in a study to a range of digitally created photos arranged in pairs of male and female faces that appeaed to be between 20 and 40 years old. They asked participants to choose which one looked heavier. From this data, the researchers derived the changes in body mass index needed to meaningfully alter judgments of weight and attractiveness, and they found a specific number.
“Women and men of average height need to gain or lose about three and a half and four kilograms, or about eight and nine pounds, respectively, for anyone to see it in their face, but they need to lose about twice as much for anyone to find them more attractive,” said Nicholas Rule, who is Canada Research Chair in Social Perception and Cognition at U of T and lead researcher of the study.
The study, called “Heavy Matters: The Relationship Between Just Noticeable Differences in Perceptions of Facial Adiposity and Facial Attractiveness“, was published recently in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), one-in-four Canadians is obese. The good news? We’re thinner than the United States, Mexico, Australia and England. The bad? We’re heavier than Spain, France, Italy, Korea and Switzerland. But the OECD warns that the trend is affecting most all developed nations, and some of the long-term numbers are tough to swallow. In the United States, fewer than 15 per cent of people were obese in 1972, but that number has climbed to nearly 35 per cent today.
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With the holidays just a couple weeks away, the U of T research could not come at a worse time for most of us. December is a time when many people choose to indulge in larger, fattier and often more sugary meals, and we will no doubt hear the warnings about the average holiday weight gain topping five, perhaps even seven pounds. But those numbers, according to one study, are simply way off.
A 2000 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine aimed to challenge reports from the likes of CNN to the Texas Medical Association that says the average American gains five pounds during the holidays. The article, called “A Prospective Study of Holiday Weight Gain” found the average weight gain from mid-November to mid-January was actually less than a single pound.
While weight gain is clearly associated with increased incidence of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and a range of other maladies, the University of Toronto study found that the dangers of these conditions often isn’t enough of a motivating factor to get people to make a change. But there is one thing that may get them off the couch more consistently, says Rule.
“When it comes to incentives for weight loss, some people are more motivated to look attractive than to improve their health,” he said.