- High self-regulation in
toddler girls makes them more obese at age 5, whereas the same amount of
self-regulation in boys makes them less obese at age 5.
- Earlier studies have
shown that there were lower rates of obesity seen in early adolescence as
- The current research
shows that increases in self-regulation are not optimal for everyone; the
relationship differs based on whether they are boys or girls.
Self-regulation, i.e., the ability to change behavior in
different social situations practiced in the toddler age could help predict whether the child will be obese in kindergarten or not, according
to earlier studies. In other words,
self-regulatory problems in early childhood are important longitudinal
predictors of weight problems in early adolescence.
However, the current study from The Ohio State University
found that more self-regulation may not necessarily mean a
reduction in the risk of obesity
, especially in
‘The connection between self-regulation at the toddler age and obesity at the kindergarten age was different between boys and girls indicating that interventions taken to improve self-regulation might play out differently for both genders.
The present study states that the
connection between self-regulation and obesity appears to be much different for
girls than for boys.
tested as having low or high self-regulation when they were 2 years old were
more likely to turn out obese at age 5 than girls to tested to be of average
self-regulation. On the other hand, boys with high self-regulation were less
likely to be obese than the boys with low or average self-regulation.
The study is
published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics
Self-Regulation and its Connection to Overweight and Obesity
Self-regulation refers to the cognitive processes that govern drives and emotions; self-control which is an aspect of self-regulation is
the ability to regulate one's emotions, urges and desires deliberately.
must develop self-regulation at a young age; and poorer self-control in
childhood is associated with worse adult health, economic and social outcomes.
Studies on this subject
have revealed that difficulties in self-regulation lead to the development of
overweight and obesity, primarily via deregulated eating behavior.
One study indicates
that if children have self-control, they are protected from weight gain in the
transition to adolescence. Another study says that children with low
self-regulation had significantly higher body mass index (BMI)
and more rapid weight gain
from age 3-12 than other children.
in children is promoted for a variety of desired outcomes, including obesity
prevention and improved school readiness.
Play a Role in the Development of Obesity?
The traits used to measure self-regulation were a child's
adaptability, persistence, attention, and frustration tolerance
- The research team
analyzed the data of 6,400 U.S. children, born in 2001, that came from the
National Center for Education Statistics to determine
- Whether the ability of
a child to self-regulate at the age of 2 was associated with their risk of
obesity in kindergarten
- Any differences between
as a four-part in-home assessment.
could earn one point to five points on each measure, with a possible score of
20 indicating a very high level of self-regulation.
were looking at things like how readily a child gave up a block when an adult
said it was time to play with something else, how difficult it was to hold
their attention and how easily frustrated they became when things weren't going
their way," said
lead author Sarah Anderson, an associate professor in Ohio State's College of
and weight of the children were measured, and obesity
was defined as a body mass index greater than or equal to the 95th percentile
Study Results and Interpretations
of the study turned out quite different from what the team
To look at
the data, the children were separated into quartiles ranging from "least
regulated" to "most-regulated."
- Toddler girls who were
at the extremes of self-regulation (least and most) were more likely to be
obese at kindergarten age than their female peers in the middle
- Only the most-regulated
toddler boys turned out to be least likely to be obese, with little
difference in the other groups.
- There was no clear
step-wise pattern to indicate that increased self-regulation meant
decreased rates of obesity in either gender.
should not assume that interventions to increase self-regulation will
necessarily lead to benefits for both genders - it may be different for boys
and girls," Anderson said
speculate that it's possible that girls and boys are reacting
differently to social expectations which could play a role in childhood
girls may experience different stresses, and this might result in differences
in energy balance and metabolism between girls and boys especially in the group
observed to have high self-regulation. For example,
- Boys might be less
socially stressed in their environment, as more boys tend to be more OK
with someone who gets easily frustrated and not paying attention, compared
- Girls might be putting
themselves under added stress in the interest of appeasing adults since
they would like to be rewarded for "good" behavior, compared to
- Also, other factors
like physiological differences and behavioral responses to demands in a
child's environment may contribute to links between self-regulation and
obesity, and these could affect appetite, food intake, sleep, and activity
prevention is a complex and humbling task. Gender is another social influence
that may affect the success of obesity prevention efforts," said
Anderson's co-author, Robert Whitaker of Temple University.
- More self-regulation
may not always be a positive thing.
- If people are looking
at interventions to improve self-regulation in order to prevent childhood
obesity, they should realize that it might not play out the same way for
boys and girls; it could have an unintended impact for some girls.
- People should be
cautious about assuming that increases in self-regulation are optimal for
everyone; young children are potentially responding differently to
messages and expectations based on whether they are boys or girls.
- Early Weight Gain in Pregnancy and Infant Birth Weight - (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/2677895)
- Self-Regulation and the Management of Childhood Obesity - (https://www.omicsonline.org/selfregulation-and-the-management-of-childhood-obesity-2161-0711.1000107.php?aid=2820)