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Childhood Self-Control Linked with Adult BMI

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Most adults understand that self-control is important for portion control and choosing a healthy diet, as well as maintaining a proper weight. A new study has found that skills like self-control and delayed gratification in childhood can affect weight in adulthood.

This long-term study, which will be published in the Journal of Pediatrics, found that delayed gratification in 4-year-olds was linked to a lower BMI 30 years later. From 1968 to 1974, researchers gave over 650 4-year-old children a  delay of gratification test. During this test, children were given a treat and told they could have another if they waited to eat the first snack. They weren’t told how long they had to wait to eat the snack, although it was 15 minutes. Follow-up studies were also conducted, which found that long delays of gratification in preschool-aged children was linked to academic strength, social skills, planning skills, an increased ability to deal with stress and better SAT scores for adolescents.

So what does this study show us? Helping your younger kids learn self-control can lower their risk of becoming obese or overweight as adults and offer a range of other benefits, including improved school performance and better health in general. It has also been shown to reduce the chances of being convicted of a crime later in life through separate studies.

Dr. Tanya Schlam, of the University of Wisconsin, worked with researchers from several other universities to perform follow-up studies on the participants of the original study. These adults, now in their mid-30s, were given an assessment of their body mass index, which was then cross-referenced to see how they performed on the delayed gratification test as young kids. Researchers found that for each minute a kid could delay the gratification of the snack a decrease of .2 was predicted in their BMI as adults. Of the respondents in this follow-up, only 24% were overweight and 9% obese, which is much lower than the national average. Today, 34% of adults in the United States are overweight and an additional 34% are obese.

The good news is you can teach children self-control and delayed gratification by teaching them proper portions and making healthy snacks available over junk food. Along with exercise and control of calorie intake, it’s possible to modify and improve these techniques in both children and adults.

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