You Are How You Eat

Personality traits links distinct factors to human health

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Anyone who has heard the phrase "you are what you eat" might be interested to know that scientists are starting to link personality traits to eating habits.  

When analyzing a population of Estonians, researchers discovered that those who are more conscientious—those who have “the tendency to be orderly, dutiful, disciplined, and considerate”—are more likely to be healthy.

This investigation further links a person’s level of extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and neuroticism to their unique level of health.

"Eat a health-conscious diet filled with whole foods."

René Mõttus, Ph.D., lead researcher from the University of Tartu, worked with a team of fellow university researchers to understand personality’s impact on diet and its subsequent health outcomes.

Dr. Mõttus used the Five Factor Model (FFM)—the most popularly recognized personality trait taxonomy—to study how one’s personality affects their actions and habits, and in turn, their health. The five factors are:

  1. Openness to experience, a general curiosity for life
  2. Conscientiousness, the ability to be disciplined and remain aware and organized in daily tasks
  3. Extraversion, the desire for socialization and action
  4. Agreeableness, the tendency to be cooperative and compassionate
  5. Neuroticism, the inclination toward negative thought patterns such as anger, anxiety, or depression

While investigating the intricacies of 1,691 people ages eighteen to eighty-nine, Mõttus and his team unveiled a pattern in the results that separated people into a “health aware” group and then those eating a more “traditional type of diet.”

“People lower in neuroticism and higher in extraversion, openness, and conscientiousness were more likely to endorse a dietary pattern that was defined by frequent consumption of cereal products, fish, fruits, and vegetables and was labeled as a health aware diet,” the authors explain in their study.

“At the same time, people lower in openness were more likely to endorse a dietary pattern that was defined by more frequent consumption of potatoes, meat and meat products, and bread, and was labeled as a traditional diet.”

The “traditional” diet here in the United States also has its health pitfalls. A publication through the National Institute of Health states that the “Standard American Diet,” or the “SAD” diet, has caused many U.S. health concerns.

U.S. consumption has greatly changed over the past several decades. While in the 1950s Americans depended largely on agriculture and frequently consumed produce, today Americans consume more modern foods that are nutrient-poor and calorie-dense, contributing to a slew of problems.

There’s no evidence to suggest that negative dietary choices in the Western world are not also linked to lower levels of openness.

The research done through Dr. Mõttus study was funded through an initiative of the Estonian Genome Center, an affiliate of the University of Tartu, and is published in the journal Health Psychology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 30, 2012
Last Updated:
January 31, 2012