HEALTH

Clues To Your Health Could Be Written All Over Your Face

Our BMI, body fat and even blood pressure shows up on our face, according to new research.

08/11/2017 7:07 PM AEDT | Updated 08/11/2017 7:10 PM AEDT

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Ever wondered just what it is that makes you swipe right?

Think those chiselled features, soft jawline or heart-shaped face that prompted you to swipe right on Tinder are just a matter of personal taste?

There could be more to those split-second decisions than you realise. In fact, they could actually be indicative of your prospective date's health.

A new Australian-led study has shown that your body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage and even your blood pressure show up in subtle cues on your face -- and we pick up on these cues without even realising it.

In the study, a computer model was trained to recognise these three health indicators for 272 Asian, African and Caucasian faces. Once trained, the model was then able to accurately predict the BMI, body fat and blood pressure of any individual, just by analysing an image of their face.

Using these results, a group of human participants were then asked to make a series of faces look as "healthy" as possible.

"We found that the participants altered the faces to look lower in fat, have a lower BMI and, to a lesser extent, a lower blood pressure in order to make them look healthier," explained study author and Macquarie University psychology researcher Dr Ian Stephen.

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The researchers got the study participants to alter faces to make the look as "healthy" as possible -- and found the results were pretty accurate.

And even though the spatial differences between, for example, a face with a high body fat percentage compared to one with a high BMI were subtle and difficult to define, the participants were able to differentiate between them.

The findings add to a growing body of research suggesting that modern-day attraction has less to do with personal taste and more to do with our biological instincts than we might like to admit.

"There's always been this 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' idea which essentially says that what we find attractive is just arbitrary and there is nothing inherent about an attractive person," Dr Stephens told HuffPost Australia.

"Evolutionary theory has chipped in on that and essentially says that attractiveness is essentially a mechanism for recognising healthy, fertile, appropriate mates and also healthy friends and allies, because there's obvious advantages to being friends with or mating with people who are healthy."

Previous research has found that people who eat their fruits and veggies look and even smell more attractive to prospective partners than those who eat less healthily.

Dr Stephen was part of a team who found men in particular who eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables smell more attractive to women than those who eat high-carbohydrate or high-fat diets.

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Computer modelling of a person with a low "healthy" BMI (left) compared to the computer's model of a face with a high BMI.

Now, the international team of researchers are testing to see if the new facial modelling technology can be used as a diagnostic tool for other disorders, potentially improving access to diagnostic tools for people in remote communities.

"One research team is attempting to produce the models that it hopes will be able to screen for certain genetic conditions like Down syndrome or Turners syndrome, which are already known to have an influence on facial appearance," Dr Stephen said.

"If this technology can be used to recognise (these kinds of conditions) in infants, it might capture some of those things earlier and more cheaply and without having to take blood samples from babies."

The research findings have been published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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