Girls with poorer motor skills more likely than boys to be obese

Research news

Monday 19 December 2016

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Four children about seven years old, each with one arm around another's shoulders and each holding a ballYoung girls who exhibit a poor mastery of fundamental movement skills (FMS) are more likely to be obese than boys who have similarly low skills, according to research led by Coventry University.

The study – which won an award1 at the recent British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences conference – assessed among other things the running, catching, and balance skills2 of 250 girls and boys between 6–11 years3, categorising their FMS as either low, medium or high.

Researchers at Coventry University, working in collaboration with Middlesex University and the University of South Carolina, then cross-referenced the kids' motor skills with their body fatness4 to investigate the relationship between the two. The children's habitual physical activity was also taken into account5.

The researchers found that:

  • body fatness was significantly higher among girls in the low FMS category compared with boys in the same category;
  • body fatness was higher for girls in the low FMS category compared with girls with medium or high fundamental movement skills;
  • there was no significant difference in body fatness across the low, medium and high FMS categories for boys.

Lead researcher Professor Mike Duncan, an exercise physiologist in Coventry University's Centre for Applied Biological and Exercise Sciences, said:

We know from previous studies that primary school children with a higher body mass index are likely to have poorer fundamental movement skills, but our research is aiming to understand this relationship in more detail – particularly how gender may play a role.

What we've found is significant because it signals a need to review the strategies we have to enhance motor proficiency in girls, and means we should be engaging health practitioners and PE teachers to help explore and understand how additional opportunities or different techniques may be required compared with boys.

The next big question – which we're continuing to research – is whether developmental delays in acquiring these motor skills, whether in girls or boys, may actually be the cause of children gaining unhealthy weight status.

For further press information, please contact Alex Roache, senior media officer, Coventry University, on +44 (0)24 7765 5050 or email


1 The study won the 2016 Cranlea Poster Presentation Award.

2 Eight different motor skills were assessed via video analysis: sprint run, side gallop, hop, kick, catch, overarm throw, vertical jump and static balance.

3 Two hundred and forty-eight children (112 boys; 136 girls) aged 6-11 years took part in the study.

4 Skinfold measures from tricep and medial calf were used to calculate body fatness. The International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) classification system for body mass index was used to assess overweight and obesity.

5 Habitual physical activity was measured over four days (two week days and two weekend days) using a sealed pedometer, with average daily steps taken as a measure of physical activity.