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Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 May;19(5):1101-2. doi: 10.1038/oby.2010.297. Epub 2010 Dec 9.

Ability to delay gratification and BMI in preadolescence.

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Department of Psychology, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri, USA.


Delay of gratification tasks require an individual to forgo an immediate reward and wait for a more desirable delayed reward. This study used an ecologically valid measure of delayed gratification to test the hypothesis that preadolescents with higher BMI would be less likely to delay gratification. Healthy Hawks is a 12-week educational/behavioral obesity intervention at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Each week, children earn a point if they complete their goals worksheet. They can spend that point immediately on a small toy prize or save points to use on a larger prize. We retrospectively calculated the percentage of points saved over the 12 weeks for 59 children (28 females) ages 8-12 years old (mean = 10.29 ± 1.39). Spearman correlation revealed that higher BMI percentile was associated with reduced point savings (r = 0.33, P = 0.01). Similarly, obese preadolescents saved significantly fewer points than healthy weight (HW) and overweight preadolescents (t (57) = 3.14, P < 0.01). Results from our ecologically valid measure support the theory that obese children are less likely to delay gratification than overweight and HW children. Even for nonfood rewards, preadolescent children with higher BMIs prefer the immediate reward over a delayed, larger reward. This has implications for developing specific strategies within obesity treatments aimed at improving delayed gratification.

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