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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 characterized 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 relatively more predictive of when, where, and what people eat.
Sarah C. Dahmann is a Research Fellow at the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne, a Fellow of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course, and a Research Affiliate at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA). Her research fields are education, labor, and health economics. She is primarily interested in the human development of adolescents and young adults, focusing particularly on the formation of human capital, mental health, intergenerational mobility, and socioeconomic disadvantage. In her work, she applies microeconometric techniques to large administrative and survey-based data. Her current research focuses on the determinants of skill formation, the economic consequences of childhood disadvantage, the impacts of education and welfare policies, and the importance of mental health and self-control for economic behavior.