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The University of Southampton

Self-confidence in children can reduce their chances of obesity

Published: 20 June 2008

Self-confident children are less likely to be overweight or obese as adults, according to new research published by a team at the University of Southampton.

The study reveals that the extent to which individuals believe they can influence events through their own actions - their locus of control - can be a major factor in their potential future health.

Those who believe they are largely in charge of their lives have an internal locus of control, while those who feel they are not have an external locus.

It is believed to be the first study to show that locus of control in childhood can predict whether someone is obese or overweight as an adult.

The team of researchers, led by Dr Catharine Gale, from the MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre at the University of Southampton's School of Medicine, investigated data from all children born in the UK in one week in 1970.

They found that of the 7,500 adults who had been followed since birth, those who had shown an internal locus of control at the age of ten were less likely to be overweight or obese at 30.

They were also less likely to describe their health as poor or show high levels of psychological distress.

This link remained even after the researchers took account of other factors including childhood IQ, social class, education and income.

Dr Gale said: "Children with a more internal locus of control may behave more healthily as adults because they have greater confidence in their ability to influence outcomes through their own actions."

The research findings are based on a larger, ongoing study looking at the health of a group of Britons born in 1970.

At the age of ten they completed a questionnaire designed to gauge their locus of control.

They were asked questions such as whether they thought good grades were a matter of luck and how often they felt there was no use in trying something because 'things never turn out right anyway'.

Dr Gale's team discovered that the more internal a child's locus of control, the better ratings they gave to their overall health, and the lower they scored on a measure of psychological distress.

Locus of control is a personality trait but there is evidence to show that it can be shaped by childhood experiences, including a child's interaction with its parents.

"Parents who encourage independence and help children learn the connection between their actions and consequences tend to have children with a more internal locus of control," Dr Gale said.

Notes for editors

  • A photo of Dr Catharine Gale is available on request from Communications.

    The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship.

    This is one of the country's top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine, and home to a range of world-leading research centres, including the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, the Optoelectronics Research Centre, the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, and the Mountbatten Centre for International Studies.

    We combine academic excellence with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to research, supporting a culture that engages and challenges students and staff in their pursuit of learning.

    As one of the UK's top ten research universities, we offer first-rate opportunities and facilities for study and research across a wide range of subjects in humanities, health, science and engineering.

    We have over 22,000 students, around 5,000 staff, and an annual turnover in the region of £325 million.

  • For further information

    Liz Gilbride, Communications, University of Southampton,
    Tel: 023 8059 2128, email:

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