Tanya R. Schlam of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health's Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention and colleagues said 653 4-year-olds completed a delay of gratification test from 1968 to 1974, in which they were given one treat -- such as a cookie or a marshmallow -- and were told they would be given a second treat if they could wait for an unspecified length of time to eat the first treat. The delay ended up being 15 minutes.
Follow-up studies showed delaying gratification for a longer time as a preschooler was associated with adolescent academic strength, social competence, playfulness, ability to handle stress and higher SAT scores.
"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," Schlam said in a statement.
The study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, found that each minute a child delayed gratification predicted a 0.2 decrease in adult BMI. The follow-up study of the participants in their 30s found 24 percent of the respondents were overweight and 9 percent were obese -- lower than the 2008 national adult average of 34 percent overweight and another 34 percent obese.