Personality traits contribute to health outcomes, in part through their association with major controllable risk factors, such as obesity. Body weight, in turn, reflects our behaviors and lifestyle and contributes to the way we perceive ourselves and others. In this study, the authors use data from a large (N = 1,988) longitudinal study that spanned more than 50 years to examine how personality traits are associated with multiple measures of adiposity and with fluctuations in body mass index (BMI). Using 14,531 anthropometric assessments, the authors modeled the trajectory of BMI across adulthood and tested whether personality predicted its rate of change. Measured concurrently, participants higher on Neuroticism or Extraversion or lower on Conscientiousness had higher BMI; these associations replicated across body fat, waist, and hip circumference. The strongest association was found for the impulsivity facet: Participants who scored in the top 10% of impulsivity weighed, on average, 11Kg more than those in the bottom 10%. Longitudinally, high Neuroticism and low Conscientiousness, and the facets of these traits related to difficulty with impulse control, were associated with weight fluctuations, measured as the variability in weight over time. Finally, low Agreeableness and impulsivity-related traits predicted a greater increase in BMI across the adult life span. BMI was mostly unrelated to change in personality traits. Personality traits are defined by cognitive, emotional, and behavioral patterns that likely contribute to unhealthy weight and difficulties with weight management. Such associations may elucidate the role of personality traits in disease progression and may help to design more effective interventions.
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