The Mediating Effect of Self-Regulation in the Association Between Poverty and Child Weight: A Systematic Review

  • Katherine A. Hails
  • Yiyao Zhou
  • Daniel S. ShawEmail author


Deficits in self-regulation (SR) have been proposed as a potential contributor to child overweight/obesity, a public health concern that disproportionately affects children living in poverty. Although poverty is known to influence SR, SR has not been considered as a potential mechanism in the association between poverty and child obesity. The aim of the current paper was to systematically review the current literature to determine whether SR is a viable mechanism in the relationship between child exposure to poverty and later risk of overweight/obesity. We systematically review and summarize literature in three related areas with the aim of generating a developmentally informed model that accounts for the consistent association between poverty and child weight, specifically how: (1) poverty relates to child weight, (2) poverty relates to child SR, and (3) SR is associated with weight. To quantify the strength of associations for each pathway, effect sizes were collected and aggregated. Findings from the studies included suggest small but potentially meaningful associations between poverty and child SR and between SR and child weight. The conceptualization and measurement of SR, however, varied across literature studies and made it difficult to determine whether SR can feasibly connect poverty to child obesity. Although SR may be a promising potential target for obesity intervention for low-income children, additional research on how SR affects risk of obesity is crucial, especially based on the lack of success of the limited number of SR-promoting interventions for improving children’s weight outcomes.


Poverty Obesity BMI Self-regulation Food insecurity 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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