THURSDAY, Aug. 16, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Kids who exert some level of self-control when it comes to eating might have a good chance of keeping obesity at bay as adults, a new study suggests.
The finding is based on three decades of data from over 650 people who initially completed an "instant gratification behavior analysis" as 4-year-olds back in the 1960s and 1970s.
The researchers explained that, between 1968 and 1974, the youngsters were given a sweet treat (a cookie or a marshmallow). In turn, each child was told that he or she would get a second treat if they could resist eating the first treat for a certain period of time, about 15 minutes.
Initial follow-up analyses revealed that the kids with better self-control fared better academically and socially. They also went on to perform better on tests and in terms of stress management as adults.
The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere, then focused on the physical -- specifically, adult weight gain. When the study participants reached their 30s, the investigators looked at their body mass index (BMI, a measurement based on height and weight), and found that every minute the children were able to delay gratifying their sweet tooth corresponded to a drop in their average BMI decades later, according to the report published online Aug. 16 in The Journal of Pediatrics.
There are interventions and methods to teach kids better self-control, and they "may decrease children's risk of becoming overweight," study lead author Tanya Schlam, from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health's Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, said in a journal news release.
There's more on helping kids have healthy eating habits at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.