Self-control and unhealthy body weight: the role of impulsivity and restraint

Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 02/22

Date: January 2022


Deborah A. Cobb-Clark
Sarah C. Dahmann
Daniel A. Kamhöfer
Hannah Schildberg-Hörisch


We examine the relationship between trait self-control and body weight. Data from a population representative household survey reveal that limited self-control is strongly associated with both objective and subjective measures of unhealthy body weight. Those with limited self-control are characterised by reduced exercising, repeated dieting, unhealthier eating habits, and poorer nutrition. We propose an empirical method to isolate two facets of self-control limitations—high impulsivity and low restraint. Each has differential predictive power. Physical activity, dieting, and overall body weight are more strongly associated with restraint; impulsivity is more predictive of when, where, and what people eat.

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  • Brief self-control scale, obesity, body mass index, diet, exercise