Self-control, socioeconomic status, physical activity and weight changes in a 7-year population-based study

  • A. Haukkala
  • H. Konttinen
  • S. Männistö
  • P. Jousilahti


Background: Dispositional self-control is a part of the self-regulation system indicating capability to resist impulses and control thoughts and actions. Self-control has found to have a small effect on weight-related behaviours, but prospective studies with long-term follow-up are lacking. We examined whether self-control predicts physical activity (PA), and weight changes in a 7-year follow-up study and does gender, education or income moderate these effects. Methods: The participants were Finnish men and women aged 25-74 years who took part in the DILGOM study at baseline in 2007 and follow-up in 2014 (N=3735). A 13-item Brief Self-Control Scale (Tangey et al. 2004), physical activity (PA), PA and nutrition related self-efficacy, years of education, and income were self-reported. Body Mass Index (BMI kg/m²) was calculated based on measured height and weight. Findings: Those with higher self-control at baseline had lower BMI and more leisure time PA. Higher baseline self-control predict changes in leisure time PA. Those with higher self-control gained less weight (b=-.06, p<.001) after controlling for age, education and baseline weight. However, this association was significant only among women (gender*self-control interaction p=.001). Self-control was not related to weight loss in either gender. Education or income did not moderate these effects. Discussion: In the present population sample, lower self-control was related to weight gain only among women. This association was mediated by behaviour specific cognitions. Lack of association among men could be related to lower pressures to maintain a thin body.
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