…might keep the doctor away, but it still leaves you 2-4 servings short of your daily fruit recommendations. Everybody is more than familiar with the ‘5-a-day’ dictate (or maybe even ‘6-a-day’, in the case of the cheeky Danes), but how many of us actually practice what is preached, whilst debating if the cherry on top of the gargantuan slice of chocolate cake should count or not? We’ve all heard that this practice decreases the risk of developing some forms of cancer and that it can help prevent heart disease, but that’s never motivating enough to go the extra mile around the ‘Fresh Fruit and Vegetables’ aisle. Yet, what if your very own University told you this lifestyle choice yielded extra health benefits?

So far, St Andrews’ researchers have dabbled in some very unconventional themes and topics – just bear in mind the potential invisibility cloak and fibre-optic black hole lying around in the Physics department. However, they have now come down to Earth to prove to us that ‘5-a-day’ literally makes you glow (albeit not in the dark): after you’ve increased your fruit and vegetable consumption for about 6 weeks, your skin starts developing a golden tinge, doubled by a very healthy aura. This is mainly due to the carotenoid pigments (orangey-red colourings encountered in fruit and vegetables), which apparently also shield you from cataracts and prevent aging. The study was carried out in collaboration with the School of Medicine and psychologists in the Perception Lab, and supervised by Professor David Perrett. He hopes to appeal to the nation’s vanity and not to sermonise excessively about long term health benefits, which might still be uncertain: ‘The message that a good diet improves skin colour could improve health across the globe’.

Researcher Ross Whitehead claims that beseeching worldwide vainglory might prove itself a more useful long-term strategy towards addressing poor diets than ineffective government strategies: ‘We hope that highlighting the rapidly achievable benefits of a healthy diet on our attractiveness will be a stronger incentive for people to eat more healthily. Knowing you are going to look more attractive in a few weeks might be more persuasive than the promise of health benefits later in life.’ Dr Gozde Ozakinciu, Lecturer in Health Psychology, supports these allegations and draws attention to the fact that appearance is a very powerful motivator in today’s culture; a guarantee of its improvement may be the driving force behind the promotion of numerous other healthy behaviours such as stopping smoking and limiting alcohol intake.

All things considered, this analysis builds on the fact that motivation, just like beauty, might be only skin deep: long-lasting improvements are seldom the catalysts of any behavioural decisions, and spur-of-the-moment resolutions are mainly what govern our actions. In a land where a balanced diet is defined as fish in one hand and chips in the other, can a significant health improvement be triggered by a promise of better looks? Maybe time will tell – we should just wait and glow!

 

Julie Kanya

Image by George Eastman House