Rice et al (2010) address the role that DHEA appears to play in the determination of visceral and subcutaneous fat distribution, which is associated with weight distribution and the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). So far as I know, no one else has offered an explanation for the evolved development of WHR preferences. (Evolved development requires an animal model for its basis, and other animals respond to olfactory/pheromonal input, which is responsible for the development of their preferences for the physical features of other animals.)
Metabolites of DHEA that are associated with the WHR might convey the olfactory/pheromonal information that elicits hormonal changes associated with visual input and the WHR during the development of WHR preferences. My co-authors and I proposed this explanation in Kohl et al (2001):
“We would be remiss if we failed to address yet another aspect of what is most commonly believed to be visually perceived physical attraction: the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) Sex steroid hormones control regional fat distribution , which interacts with reproductive control mechanisms. For example, fat tissue converts androgens to estrogens . Circulating E levels appear to lower WHR, while circulating T levels appear to increase WHR, which is believed to signal reproductive fitness in women, and perhaps in men . In addition, high levels of LH and FSH as well as estradiol levels are linked to lower WHR and to the earlier pubertal endocrine activity of females. However, the conscious or unconscious mechanisms linked to the perception of WHR and its link to physical attractiveness, have not been detailed. Presumably, these mechanisms exist cross-culturally, but they have defied explanation. The conditioning of visually perceived physically attractive WHR by association with steroid hormone-dependent chemical cues (e.g., human pheromones) seems to be a very likely explanation for the increased desirability of men and women whose weight and height are proportionate.”
Now that Karremans et al (2010) have shown that visual input is not required for the development of the WHR preference, it appears even more appropriate to adopt an animal model for its evolved development. That model is the olfactory/pheromonal model I have detailed since my first presentation in 1992.
I have elsewhere attempted to partially detail the involvement of DHEA metabolism in the production of species-specific human pheromones, but these details remain speculative. Nevertheless, I don’t consider these details to be quite as speculative as the comments of others who state that the WHR preference is a manifestation of culture, because other animals don’t need culture to develop preferences for physical characteristics associated with olfactory/pheromonal input and reproductive fitness.
Rice, S. P. L., L. Zhang, et al. (2010). “Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) treatment in vitro inhibits adipogenesis in human omental but not subcutaneous adipose tissue.” Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology In Press, Accepted Manuscript.
Karremans, J. C., W. E. Frankenhuis, et al. (2010). “Blind men prefer a low waist-to-hip ratio.” Evolution and Human Behavior. In Press, Accepted Manuscript.
Kohl, J. V., M. Atzmueller, et al. (2001). “Human pheromones: integrating neuroendocrinology and ethology.” Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 22(5): 309-21.