Delayed gratification is good for your health, study finds

Recent research suggests that the ability to delay immediate gratification is associated with less frequent consumption of fast food. Away-from-home eating – fast food in particular – is a known contributor to America’s obesity epidemic. “Study results show that insights from behavioral economics – in particular, our ability to delay gratification – may explain why some individuals find it easier than others to resist the temptation of fast food,” says lead researcher Matthew Harding, UCI professor of economics. The study team analyzed responses from a lifestyle behavior survey that included questions about frequency of fast-food consumption as well as time preference measures. Respondents were asked if they would rather immediately receive $10 or wait 30 days and receive a larger sum – $12, $15 or $18. Findings revealed that willingness to wait for a larger amount of money was significantly associated with less frequent fast-food consumption: Those who most often chose the delayed sum were 26 percent less likely to consume fast food. “These insights into human decision-making highlight the central role economic analysis can play in designing effective public health programs and developing innovative interventions to help combat the obesity health crisis we are facing today,” Harding says. The study team also included researchers from the American Cancer Society; the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition in Omaha, Nebraska. The findings appear in an early online edition of Preventive Medicine.

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