Women's faces reflect levels of healthiness

Perceptions of fatness in women’s faces correlate with their Body Mass Index (BMI), measures of their physical and reproductive health, and measures of their psychological functioning, research published in our British Journal of Psychology has found.

The study, conducted by Rowan Tinlin and her collaborators - led by Ben Jones from the University of Aberdeen, concluded that fatness in the face is an important indicator of health. 

Following three studies, BMI was recognised to be a better indicator of fattness in the face than body shape.

They also found that perceived fatness in the face was related to previous health problems and aspects of psychological functioning, such as depression, anxiety and stress. And that it correlated with women’s progesterone levels - a key component in reproductive health.

Researcher Rowan Tinlin said: “These findings suggest that fatness in the face conveys important health information during social interactions, even in women with relatively healthy BMIs”.

Professor Jones added: “Previous work has suggested that typical, or ‘average’, levels of perceived fatness in the face look optimally healthy and attractive. So, although high levels of facial adiposity may well indicate you’re in poor physical shape, that will be true of very low levels too.”

Dr Lisa DeBruine, a co-author on the project, noted that “Research on face perception and health has focused on cues like symmetry and averageness, with mixed results. These new findings suggest that more attention needs to be paid to the study of facial fatness.”

Although the findings present important evidence that perceived fatness in the face is an indicator of actual health, they do not shed any light on the specific facial characteristics that people use to assess fatness in the face.

Rowan Tinlin noted that: “Further research is needed to identify the specific facial indicators that drive perceptions of adiposity and health”.

This research follows a study carried out by psychologists from the University of St Andrews who found that men with wider faces are unselfish.