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Does Mutual Attraction Explain Assortative Mating for Obesity?

Overall, regardless of individual's preferences, everyone is attractive to somebody.


February 22, 2018

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Many studies have established that, on average, people regard leaner females and males as more attractive. Despite these overall trends, individuals may have different preferences when choosing a mate. Additionally, while couples that have obesity get a double dose of obesity risk alleles for their offspring, assortative mating may play a factor in the obesity epidemic. A new study published in Obesity examined assortative mating and the mutual attraction hypothesis. According to TOS spokesperson Steven B. Heymsfield, MD, FTOS, President-Elect of The Obesity Society, Professor at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University said, "The mutual attraction hypothesis suggests that people with obesity may find other people with obesity more physically attractive and, hence, they are more likely to form partnerships."

In this study, 559 male and 340 female participants across 12 countries were shown images of individuals of the opposite sex and asked to rate how attractive they thought they were. The authors looked for associations between these ratings and the raters' own body mass index (BMI).


The results indicate there is tremendous individual variability in attractiveness ratings. For female attractiveness, most males favored the leanest subjects. Yet others favored intermediate adiposity or found subjects with more obesity as most attractive. Some males were indifferent to body composition. For male images rated by females, the patterns were more complex. Most females favored subjects with low levels of adiposity (but not the lowest) while others were indifferent to body fatness or rated the images depicting individuals with obesity as most attractive.

Based on the large international sample, mutual attraction is not an explanation for explaining assortative mating in obesity. Lead author John Speakman, DSc, PhD, FTOS, Professor at the University of Aberdeen said, "What is new here is that with a large international sample, we can pretty much eliminate the mutual attraction idea as an explanation. Despite the overall patterns, some people prefer individuals of intermediate adiposity and others prefer partners that have obesity over individuals that are lean. However, these preferences were not related to the rater's own BMI." Overall, regardless of individual's preferences, everyone is attractive to somebody.


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