Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Why the 'Perfect' Body isn't Always Perfect

04.12.2008
An imperfect body may have substantial benefits, according to a University of Utah study in the new issue of Current Anthropology. Hormones that make women physically stronger, more competitive and better able to deal with stress also tend to redistribute fat from the hips to the waist. So when women are under pressure to procure resources, they may be less likely to have the classic hourglass figure.

Having an imperfect body may come with some substantial benefits, according to a new article in the December issue of Current Anthropology.

The hormones that make women physically stronger, more competitive and better able to deal with stress also tend to redistribute fat from the hips to the waist, according to Elizabeth Cashdan, an anthropologist at the University of Utah. So in societies and situations where women are under pressure to procure resources, they may be less likely to have the classic hourglass figure.

Cashdan’s hypothesis aims to explain a peculiar observation. Women around the world tend to have larger waist-to-hip ratios—more cylindrical rather than hourglass-shaped bodies—than is considered optimal.

Medical studies have shown that a curvy waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 or lower is associated with higher fertility and lower rates of chronic disease. Studies have also shown that men prefer a ratio of 0.7 or lower when looking for a mate. The preference makes perfect sense, according to evolutionary psychologists, because the low ratio is a reliable signal of a healthy, fertile woman.

But in data that Cashdan compiled from 33 non-Western populations and four European populations, the average waist-to-hip ratio for women is above 0.8. If 0.7 is the magic number both in terms of health and male mate choice, why are most women significantly higher?

That’s where the hormones come in.

Androgens, a class of hormones that includes testosterone, increase waist-to-hip ratios in women by increasing visceral fat, which is carried around the waist. But on the upside, increased androgen levels are also associated with increased strength, stamina, and competitiveness. Cortisol, a hormone that helps the body deal with stressful situations, also increases fat carried around the waist.

“The hormonal profile associated with high WHR (waist-to-hip ratio) … may favor success in resource competition, particularly under stressful circumstances,” writes Cashdan. “The androgenic effects—stamina, initiative, risk-proneness, assertiveness, dominance—should be particularly useful where a woman must depend on her own resources to support herself and her family.”

In other words, trading the benefits of a thin waist for better ability to collect resources may be a good deal in certain societies and situations. And there is evidence that male mate preferences may reflect this trade-off, according to Cashdan.

In Japan, Greece and Portugal, where women tend to be less economically independent, men place a higher value on a thin waist than men in Britain or Denmark, where there tends to be more sexual equality. And in some non-Western societies where food is scarce and women bear the responsibility for finding it, men actually prefer larger waist-to-hip ratios.

“Waist-to-hip ratio may indeed be a useful signal to men, then, but whether men prefer a WHR associated with lower or higher androgen/estrogen ratios (or value them equally) should depend on the degree to which they want their mates to be strong, tough, economically successful and politically competitive,” Cashdan writes.

“And from a woman's perspective, men's preferences are not the only thing that matters.”

Cashdan, Elizabeth, “Waist-to-hip Rations Across Cultures: Trade-offs Between Androgen- and Estrogen-Dependent Traits,” Current Anthropology 49:6, December 2008

Sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Current Anthropology is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics.

Contacts:
-- Elizabeth Cashdan, professor and chair of anthropology, University of Utah -- office (801) 581-4672, cellular (801) 918-0762, cashdan@anthro.utah.edu
-- Lee Siegel, science news specialist, University of Utah Public Relations – office (801) 581-8993, cellular (801) 244-5399, leesiegel@ucomm.utah.edu

-- Kevin Stacey, publicity manager, University of Chicago Press – (773) 834-0386 / kstacey@press.uchicago.edu

Lee Siegel | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.utah.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT

nachricht Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>