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Temperament and Childhood Obesity Risk: A Review of the Literature

Anzman-Frasca, Stephanie PhD; Stifter, Cynthia A. PhD; Birch, Leann L. PhD

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: November/December 2012 - Volume 33 - Issue 9 - p 732–745
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e31826a119f
Review Article

Objective: Temperament, or individual differences in behavioral styles, could explain why many individuals are susceptible to childhood obesity in the current environment while others are not. The objective of this article is to review the growing body of literature linking weight outcomes with 2 aspects of temperament, negativity and self-regulation.

Method: Studies conducted through 2011 and assessing at least 1 weight outcome and 1 aspect of early negativity or self-regulation in normally developing infants and young children were included.

Results: Most studies suggest that greater levels of negative reactivity in early life may increase the risk of obesity, and greater self-regulation may be protective. While temperaments of individuals tend to be relatively stable over time, there is evidence that links between early temperament and weight outcomes are malleable.

Conclusions: Relationships between temperament and weight outcomes are becoming well established. More research is needed to confirm the longitudinal nature of these relationships and to shed light on the mediators and moderators of these relationships and their implications for obesity interventions.

Department of Human Development & Family Studies, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.

Address for reprints: Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, PhD, The Center for Childhood Obesity Research, The Pennsylvania State University, 129 Noll Laboratory, University Park, PA 16802; e-mail:

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Received February , 2012

Accepted July , 2012

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.