To examine the extent to which self-regulatory capacities, measured behaviorally at ages 3 and 5 years, were linked to rapid weight gain in children from age 3 to 12 years. Self-regulation failure, or the inability to control an impulse or behavior, has been implicated as a mechanism in the development of overweight.
Prospective longitudinal cohort study.
Home and laboratory-based settings in 10 sites across the United States.
Data were drawn from 1061 children as part of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.
Self-regulatory capacity was measured in 2 behavioral protocols; children participated in a self-control procedure at age 3 years and a delay of gratification procedure at age 5 years.
Main Outcome Measures
Age- and sex-specific body mass index (BMI) z scores were calculated based on measured BMI at 6 points.
Mixed-modeling analyses were used to examine differences in the rate of weight gain over time based on the extent to which children exhibited the ability to self-regulate in the behavioral procedures. Compared with children who showed high self-regulation in both behavioral protocols at ages 3 and 5 years, children who exhibited a compromised ability to self-regulate had the highest BMI z scores at each point and the most rapid gains in BMI z scores over the 9-year period. Effects of pubertal status were also noted for girls.
Self-regulation failure in early childhood may predispose children to excessive weight gain through early adolescence.