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Patterns of subcutaneous fat deposition and the relationship between body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio: Implications for models of physical attractiveness

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Piers Cornelissen, Dr Martin Tovee, Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD


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Body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) are two widely used anthropometric indices of body shape argued to convey different information about health and fertility. Both indices have also been shown to affect attractiveness ratings of female bodies. However, BMI and WHR are naturally positively correlated, complicating studies designed to identify their relative importance in predicting health and attractiveness outcomes. We show that the correlation between BMI and WHR depends on the assumed model of subcutaneous fat deposition. An additive model, whereby fat is added to the waist and hips at a constant rate, predicts a correlation between BMI and WHR because with increasing fat, the difference between the waist and hips becomes smaller relative to total width. This model is supported by longitudinal and cross-sectional data. We parameterised the function relating WHR to BMI for white UK females of reproductive age, and used this function to statistically decompose body shape into two independent components. We show that judgements of the attractiveness of female bodies are well explained by the component of curvaceousness related to BMI but not by residual curvaceousness. Our findings resolve a long-standing dispute in the attractiveness literature by confirming that although WHR appears to be an important predictor of attractiveness, this is largely explained by the direct effect of total body fat oil WHR, thus reinforcing the conclusion that total body fat is the primary determinant of female body shape attractiveness. (c) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Cornelissen PL, Tovee MJ, Bateson M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Theoretical Biology

Year: 2009

Volume: 256

Issue: 3

Pages: 343-350

ISSN (print): 0022-5193

ISSN (electronic): 1095-8541

Publisher: Academic Press


DOI: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2008.09.041


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