Self-regulation and household routines at age three and obesity at age eleven: longitudinal analysis of the UK Millennium Cohort Study

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To examine, in a population-based cohort of 3-year-old children, the association between self-regulation and exposure to the household routines of regular bedtime, regular mealtime and limits on watching television/video, and to determine whether self-regulation and these routines predict the risk of obesity at age 11.


Analyses included 10 955 children in the nationally representative UK Millennium Cohort Study. When children were age 3, parents reported whether children had a regular bedtime and mealtime, and the amount of television/video watched. Emotional and cognitive self-regulation at age 3 were assessed by parent-report with the Child Social Behaviour Questionnaire. Children's height and weight were measured at age 11 and obesity was defined using the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) criteria.


At age 3, 41% of children always had a regular bedtime, 47% always had a regular mealtime and 23% were limited to ≤ 1 h television/video daily. At age 11, 6.2% of children were obese. All three household routines were significantly associated with better emotional self-regulation, but not better cognitive self-regulation. In a multi-variable logistic regression model, including emotional and cognitive self-regulation, all routines and controlling for sociodemographic covariates, a 1-unit difference in emotional self-regulation at age 3 was associated with an OR (95% CI) for obesity of 1.38 (1.11, 1.71) at age 11, and inconsistent bedtimes with an OR (95% CI) for obesity of 1.87 (1.39, 2.51) at age 11. There was no evidence that emotional self-regulation mediated the relationship between regular bedtimes and later obesity. Cognitive self-regulation was not associated with later obesity.


Three-year-old children who had regular bedtimes, mealtimes and limits on their television/video time had better emotional self-regulation. Lack of a regular bedtime and poorer emotional self-regulation at age 3 were independent predictors of obesity at age 11.

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