Research conducted in the US identified a link between delaying self-gratification in childhood and a reduced body mass index (BMI) in adulthood.
A study of 653 children, carried out between 1968 and 1974, invited four-year-olds to put off eating a treat like marshmallows or biscuits in order to receive a second treat later on.
The results, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, showed that delaying gratification for longer lengths of time at nursery age was associated with stronger academic ability and stress management in adolescence.
However, a follow-up study looked at the results of the children who are now in their 30s - 57 per cent of whom are female - to assess their current BMI.
After cross-referencing how the participants did on their gratification test as tots, it was found that exercising self-control for a minute reduced adult BMI by 0.2 per cent.
As such, the longer the candidate managed to stave off self-gratification in childhood, the lower their BMI was likely to be in adulthood.
Researchers discovered that just 24 per cent of the participants were overweight and nine per cent were obese - well below the national average of 34 per cent for being overweight and the same percentage for obesity.
"Interventions can improve young children's self-control, which may decrease children's risk of becoming overweight and may have further positive outcomes important to society," said Dr Tanya Schlam from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine.
Areas that improved with better self-control included general health, financial stability and a reduced likelihood of being convicted of a crime, Dr Schlam added.
The study authors concluded that high self-control and the ability to delay gratification can be helpful for avoiding large portions and junk food in both adults and children.
Figures from the NHS show that 42 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women in England were obese in 2008.