Link between perceived age and health issues unveiled

07 Feb 2023

New research has shown a link between how old a person looks and their risk of age-related health issues, suggesting that our physical and mental age is reflected on our faces.

The research, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, involved 2,679 men and women (median age 65.8 years). High-resolution facial photographs from the front and side were taken with any cosmetics, creams or jewellery removed. An independent panel was asked to estimate the age of each participant using the photographs.

The perceived age of the participants was scored by taking the difference between the actual age and the age guessed by the panel. Researchers from Erasmus University Medical Centre Rotterdam and Unilever Research and Development grouped participants based on perceived age scores and reviewed lifestyle and health data.

Lifestyle factors included body mass index (BMI), UV exposure and smoking status, while the health data included renal, cardiovascular and lung conditions as these were strongly associated with age. Researchers also looked at muscle and bone health issues, eye health issues, age-related hearing loss and a measure of cognitive impairment.

The youngest-looking group was guessed to be on average five years younger than their chronological age, and was predominantly male (61%), less often a smoker and had the highest BMI. Looking younger was linked with higher cognitive function and a lower risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, age-related hearing loss, cataracts and osteoporosis.

To conclude, researchers believe that the concept of perceived age could be used as a diagnostic clue in clinical settings, and could be used to create easy-to-use models that map shared causes of ageing across different organ systems.     


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