25 Jan 2011

Toddler self-control 'can predict health and wealth'

3:05 pm on 25 January 2011

Children who have low levels of self-control at the age of three are more likely to have health and money problems and a criminal record by the time they're 32, a study that included New Zealand children has found.

Researchers from Britain, the United States and New Zealand analysed data from two large studies in which children completed a range of physical tests and interviews to assess genetic and environmental factors that can shape their lives.

The study found that children with low self-control were more likely to have health problems in later life including high blood pressure, being overweight, breathing problems and sexually transmitted infections.

They were also more likely to be dependent on substances such as tobacco, alcohol and drugs, more likely to be single parents, have difficulty managing money and have criminal records.

The researchers looked first at data from about 1,000 children born in New Zealand between April 1972 and March 1973.

The participants' self-control was assessed by teachers, parents, observers and the children themselves and included things like having low frustration tolerance, lacking persistence in reaching goals, being over-active and acting before thinking.

The team found that when the participants reached their early 30s, this impulsivity and relative inability to think about the long-term gave them more problems with finances, including savings, owning a home and credit card debt.

The children with lower self-control scores also scored highest for things like sexually transmitted diseases, weight problems, having high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

To corroborate the findings, the researchers ran the same analysis on data from 500 pairs of fraternal twins in Britain.

They found that the sibling with lower self-control scores at age five was more likely to start smoking, do badly at school and engage in antisocial behaviour at age 12.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.