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



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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We thank the MCS families for their time and participation. We are also grateful to the MCS team at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, UCL Institute of Education for the use of these data and to the UK Data Archive and the UK Data Service for making them available. However, they bear no responsibility for the analysis or interpretation of these data. These analyses were supported in part by grant R21DK104188 from the National Institutes of Health. Amanda Sacker and Yvonne Kelly were supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (grant ES/J019119/1). The MCS is funded by UK Economic and Social Research Council grants to Professor Heather Joshi (previous study director). The funders had no role in the interpretation of these data or in the writing of this article.

Author contributions

SEA conceptualized and designed the analyses, conducted the analyses and drafted the initial manuscript; AS and YK contributed to the conceptualization of the study, the design and interpretation of analyses, and reviewed and revised the manuscript; RCW conceptualized the research, contributed to the interpretation of findings, and reviewed and revised the manuscript; all authors approved the final version of the article.

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Correspondence to S E Anderson.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Supplementary Information accompanies this paper on International Journal of Obesity website

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Anderson, S., Sacker, A., Whitaker, R. et al. Self-regulation and household routines at age three and obesity at age eleven: longitudinal analysis of the UK Millennium Cohort Study. Int J Obes 41, 1459–1466 (2017).

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