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J Pediatr. 2013 Jan;162(1):90-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2012.06.049. Epub 2012 Aug 18.

Preschoolers' delay of gratification predicts their body mass 30 years later.

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  • 1Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention and Department of Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI, USA.



To assess whether preschoolers' performance on a delay of gratification task would predict their body mass index (BMI) 30 years later.


In the late 1960s/early 1970s, 4-year-olds from a university-affiliated preschool completed the classic delay of gratification task. As part of a longitudinal study, a subset (n = 164; 57% women) were followed up approximately 30 years later and self-reported their height and weight. Data were analyzed using hierarchical regression.


Performance on the delay of gratification task accounted for a significant portion of variance in BMI (4%; P < .01), over and above the variance accounted for by sex alone (13%). Each additional minute that a preschooler delayed gratification predicted a 0.2-point reduction in BMI in adulthood.


Longer delay of gratification at age 4 years was associated with a lower BMI 3 decades later. Because this study is correlational, it is not possible to make causal inferences regarding the relationship between delay duration and BMI. Identifying children with greater difficulty in delaying gratification could help detect children at risk of becoming overweight or obese. Interventions that improve self-control in young children have been developed and might reduce children's risk of becoming overweight and also have positive effects on other outcomes important to society.

Copyright © 2013 Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.

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