Less Conscientiousness Links to Higher Childhood Obesity Risk

Marlene Busko, for Medscape

July 18, 2022

Researchers published the study covered in this summary on medRxiv.org as a preprint that has not yet been peer reviewed.

Key Takeaways

  • Children who scored high in conscientiousness had a significantly reduced risk of childhood obesity, in a meta-analysis of 12 studies, confirming prior findings.

  • Extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness — the four other personality domains in the five factor model (FFM) of personality — showed no significant association with childhood obesity.

Why This Matters

  • An estimated 18% of 2- to 19-year-olds in the United States and 7% to 14% of children and adolescents in the developing world have childhood obesity, putting them at risk of cardiovascular and other diseases in adulthood. The findings of the current study suggest that children with low conscientiousness may be at increased risk of childhood obesity.

  • Several lines of evidence have indicated that personality traits are closely related to health behaviors and may be associated with the risk for development of obesity. However, studies exploring the links between personality traits and obesity have produced heterogeneous results.

  • This study is the first to comprehensively summarize published evidence about the association of personality traits with obesity in children. The current analysis also examined three possible ways — via moderation, mediation, or confounding — by which personality traits might link with the risk of childhood obesity.

  • Identification of ways to prevent and treat childhood obesity that are related to personality traits require further research.

Study Design

  • The researchers identified 12 observational studies published in English or Chinese with roughly 45,000 total children aged 3 to 18 that examined associations between personality traits associated with the five personality domains of the FFM (based on questionnaires) and measures of obesity including body mass index (BMI).

  • Based on the  FFM of personality the review classified personality traits into one of these five domains:

    • Agreeableness: The tendency to be altruistic and emotionally supportive.

    • Conscientiousness: The tendency to be self-controlled, perseverant, and disciplined according to social norms.

    • Extraversion: The tendency to be sociable, self-confident, and outgoing.

    • Neuroticism: The tendency to be nervous, emotionally unstable, and have low tolerance for stress.

    • Openness: The tendency to be imaginative, curious, and creative.

  • The authors classified conformity, persistence, psychoticism, and self-control as "other personality traits."

  • Four studies in the review were run in America, two in Belgium, and one each in Australia, China, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Norway. They mostly included children who were 6- to 12-years-old.

Key Results

  • In five studies that assessed conscientiousness higher levels of this domain were significantly associated with lower BMI based by both pooled correlation coefficients and pooled standardized mean differences.

  • The analyses showed no consistent significant associations between extraversion (seven studies), agreeableness (five studies), neuroticism (five studies), or openness (five studies) and childhood obesity.

  • Seven studies assessed the associations between personality traits other than the five dimensions included in the FFM and childhood obesity. Reduced self-control significantly linked with higher BMI in four studies. Results from one longitudinal study found no significant association of psychoticism with central obesity.

Limitations

  • The meta-analysis did not include self-control, conformity, and persistence as part of conscientiousness, unlike some previous studies.

  • The new analysis only included studies published in English or Chinese.

  • There may have been publication bias. Studies that did not find significant associations between personality traits and childhood obesity may not have been published.

Disclosures

  • The study did not receive commercial funding.

  • The authors reported no financial disclosures related to this research.

This is a summary of a preprint research study "The association of personality traits with childhood obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis" written by researchers at the Department of Maternal and Child Health, School of Public Health, Peking University, Beijing, China on medRxiv provided to you by Medscape. This study has not yet been peer reviewed. The full text of the study can be found on medRxiv.org.

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