Personality, Behavior, and the New Weight Loss Drugs

After researchers scoured eight databases and came up with seven suitable English language studies published as recently as last month, they undertook a brand new multi-author meta-analysis of information on personality traits associated with childhood obesity.

Despite multifaceted ongoing attempts to prevent and impact the problem, “the overall progress of childhood obesity interventions has been far from satisfactory.” Childhood obesity continues to rise in countries with low, middle, and high-income levels. Meanwhile, adult studies show that the influence of personality traits on obesity counts more than socioeconomic factors or even the highly suspect FTO gene.

About the lack of success thus far in controlling childhood obesity the authors say,

One critical reason is that most of the existing interventions only focused on the proximal factors of obesity such as behaviors, but paid little attention to the rooted drivers motivating behavioral changes such as personality traits.

The Five-Factor model posits five dimensions of personality traits, namely extraversion,
agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and conscientiousness. Together, these are said to
“reflect a person’s inherent patterns of cognition, attitude, emotion, self-regulation or coping strategies and have been shown to be related to multiple health-related behaviors.”

As it turns out, the only trait that merited attention in this context was conscientiousness, “the tendency to be self-controlled, perseverant, and disciplined to social norms” and the association is a negative one. In other words, children who score low on that quality have more of a tendency to be obese. And, “No consistent patterns were found in the associations between the other 4 dimensions of personality traits and BMI/obesity in children.”

According to the study results, the conclusion is:

Low conscientiousness has been found to be consistently associated with childhood obesity. Causal associations of personality traits with the risk of childhood obesity remain to be clarified in future studies.

“A growing body of evidence has revealed an association between personality traits and obesity, but the findings regarding this association among children remain mixed.” Not much there yet, but this is definitely the sort of thing that needs to be looked into before blithely authorizing the prescription of the -tide drugs to kids. How do the drugs’ known side effects mix with the five dimensions of personality delineated by the Five-Factor model?

And what about the one that stands out, the negative association between obesity and conscientiousness, “the tendency to be self-controlled, perseverant, and disciplined to social norms.” Those traits definitely show up in a child’s behavior, and many behaviors can be taught and cultivated, especially at a young age.

Is it possible that training designed to teach children to pick up after themselves, keep quiet in class, and persist in trying even after they fail at a task — is it possible that this kind of upbringing could also help them avoid obesity? And avoid the necessity for weekly injections of the latest weight-loss drugs?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The association of personality traits with childhood obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis,”, August 2023
Image by FolsomNatural/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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