(HealthDay News) – Delayed gratification among preschoolers can predict body mass index (BMI) about 30 years later.

Tanya R. Schlam, PhD, from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, and colleagues assessed whether preschoolers’ performance on a delay of gratification task would predict body mass index 30 years later. A cohort of 4-year-olds completed a classic delay of gratification task in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A subset of 164 participants self-reported their height and weight about 30 years later.

The researchers found that delay of gratification task performance accounted for 4% of the variance in BMI (P<0.01), above the variance accounted for by sex alone. A 0.2-point reduction in BMI in adulthood was predicted by each additional minute that a preschooler delayed gratification.

“As we hypothesized, our data show that delaying gratification longer at age 4 is associated with having a lower BMI approximately 30 years later,” the authors write. “Although the effect was not particularly large, the presence of any effect three decades later is noteworthy. In addition, given the severity and intractability of the obesity epidemic, accounting for any of the variance in BMI may have practical implications.”

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