Summary: First of a kind study reveals the causal relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption, exercise, and happiness, rather than a generalized correlation.
Source: University of Kent
New research led by the University of Kent and University of Reading has found that fruit and vegetable consumption and exercise can increase levels of happiness.
While the link between lifestyle and wellbeing has been previously documented and often used in public health campaigns to encourage healthier diets and exercise, new findings published by the Journal of Happiness Studies show that there is also a positive causation from lifestyle to life satisfaction.
This research is the first of its kind to unravel the causation of how happiness, the consumption of fruit and vegetables and exercising are related, rather than generalising a correlation.
The researchers, Dr Adelina Gschwandtner (University of Kent’s School of Economics), Dr Sarah Jewell and Professor Uma Kambhampati (both from the University of Reading’s School of Economics), used an instrumental variable approach to filter out any effect from happiness to lifestyle.
It showed that it is rather the consumption of fruit and vegetables and exercising that makes people happy and not the other way round.
Findings demonstrate that the ability of individuals to delay gratification and apply self-control plays a major role in influencing lifestyle decisions, which in turn has a positive impact on wellbeing. The research also shows that men appear to exercise more, and women eat more fruit and vegetables.
With it being well known that lifestyle diseases are a leading cause of ill health and mortality worldwide, and the UK having one of the highest obesity rates in Europe, these findings could have significant implications for public health policy.
Dr Gschwandtner said: ‘Behavioural nudges that help the planning self to reinforce long-term objectives are likely to be especially helpful in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If a better lifestyle not only makes us healthier but also happier, then it is a clear win-win situation.’
Professor Kambhampati said: ‘There has been a bigger shift in recent years for healthier lifestyle choices. To establish that eating more fruit and vegetables and exercising can increase happiness as well as offer health benefits is a major development. This may also prove useful for policy campaigns around environment and sustainability.’
Lifestyle and Life Satisfaction: The Role of Delayed Gratification
This paper considers the impact of two measures of lifestyle—the consumption of fruit and vegetables and doing exercise—on individual well-being. Since lifestyle is likely to be endogenous, we correct for this by using two dimensions of delayed gratification as instruments.
The ability to delay gratification enables individuals to give greater weight to the investment component of lifestyle decisions rather than merely the affective component. Our analysis is based on the UK Understanding Society Data, which covers 40,000 UK households over time.
We find that the two delayed gratification instruments are positive and significant in influencing lifestyle. In Stage 2, we find that fruit and vegetable consumption and sports activity increase life satisfaction, though the impacts vary for men and women.
These results are robust across income quartiles, region, gender, education and age groups.