Childhood Obesity and Delayed Gratification Behavior: A Systematic Review of Experimental Studies

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To evaluate the extent of the association between instant gratification behavior and childhood obesity.

Study design

PubMed, Scopus, EMBASE, EBSCOhost, and Cochrane databases were searched for the terms delayed gratification, children, and obesity. Studies were eligible if they included a sample of at least 100 children who were made to choose between an immediate reward and a larger one later, with the authors comparing the response in different populations and observing some relationship with obesity. A specifically designed data extraction form was used, following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. The methodologic quality of the included studies was assessed with the methodologic index for nonrandomized studies.


Nine articles were included after we applied the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Almost all studies conducted the test in populations of preschool children and offered food and/or nonfood rewards. The studies found a clear relationship between an inability to defer gratification and overweight and obesity. The quality assessment of the publications was ranked high in 5 studies and medium in 4.


Children with the inability to delay gratification are more likely to be overweight or obese. Observation of such trends is useful in its implications for reeducation programs. Although the methodologic quality of the eligible studies was acceptable, additional experimental controlled studies are required to associate these behaviors with other aspects.

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