Resistance isn't futile! Children who have self-control are healthier (and slimmer) as adults
Study suggests teaching youngsters self-control could be an effective way of tackling obesity

Claire Bates


13:57 GMT, 16 August 2012



14:08 GMT, 16 August 2012

Children who obey their
parents and keep their little hands out of the cookie jar have a better chance of becoming healthy adults, according to a researchers.

As adults we know that making sensible meal choices and resisting over-sized portions helps us to maintain a healthy weight.

Now a study from the University of Wisconsin has found that learning self-control when one is young is crucial to staying slim 30 years later.

little boy in experiment

little boy in experiment

Self-control: One boy struggles to stop himself eating a sweet treat in an example of the famous marshmallow experiment. Those who waited longest in a similar test conducted 30 years ago became healthier adults

Scroll down for a video showing the marshmallow experiment

Between 1968 and 1974, a team asked 653 four-year-olds to complete a delayed gratification test. They were given one treat, such as a cookie or a marshmallow, and were told that they would be given a second treat if they could wait to eat the first treat for an unspecified length of time. The average delay was 15 minutes.

Now scientists have performed a follow-up study with around a quarter of the original participants. By measuring their body-mass index (BMI) they found 24 per cent were overweight while nine per cent were obese. A reading of 18.5 – 24.9 is normal weight, 25 – 29.9 is overweight and over 30 is obese.

They found each extra minute the youngsters were able to wait for their treat was associated with a 0.2point decrease in their BMI when they were adults. The study is due to be published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

Lead author Dr Tanya Schlam, added that children who could delay gratification for longer were also more likely to succeed at school and handle stress in other follow-ups.

She said that teaching youngsters self-control could be an effective way of tackling obesity, especially because tempting high-calorie foods are so readily available.

'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),' she said.

In 2009, almost a quarter of adults (22 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women) in the UK were classified as obese. Obesity can shorten life expectancy by six to seven years among the over-40s. It causes a number of health problems such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Recent UK figures revealed a record 40million prescriptions were made out for diabetes drugs in 2011 – a rise of nearly 50 per cent in six years.