Teaching Self-Control

Personal discipline may not come naturally but it can be taught

(RxWiki News) How long can a four-year-old sit in a room with a cookie on the table? The answer depends on how much self-control the four-year-old has.

A 30-year long study tested 164 adults’ body mass indexes against a delayed gratification test they took when they were four-years-old.

Results found that the longer each kid waited the lower their body mass index was as an adult.

"Practice self-control in your home."

Tanya R. Schlam, PhD, from the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin, led an investigation into childhood impulse control and adult obesity.

For the study, 653 four-year-olds participated in a delayed gratification test between 1968 and 1974.

Each of the youngsters was placed in a room alone with a cookie. They were told that if they waited until someone came back to eat the treat, they would get a second treat as a bonus.

The kids weren’t told how long they would be left alone, but researchers left each kid for 15 minutes.

A total of 164 of the kids were followed-up with 30 years later to test their body mass index (BMI).

Results of the study found that for each minute a four-year-old delayed eating the treat, they had a lower BMI by an average of 0.2 points.

Only 9 percent of the 164 were obese and 24 percent overweight, both below the national average.

Authors suggested that behavioral interventions that teach children self-control could be useful in lowering their risk for obesity.

Dr. Schlam said, “Interventions can improve young children’s self-control, which may decrease children’s risk of becoming overweight and may have further positive effects on other outcomes important to society (general health, financial stability, and a reduced likelihood of being convicted of a crime).”

This study was published in August in the Journal of Pediatrics. Funding for this study was provided by the National Institutes of Health, no conflicts of interest were found.

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Review Date: 
August 20, 2012