We know from previous studies that primary school children with a higher body mass index are likely to have poorer fundamental movement skills, (like balancing, throwing, hopping and jumping), but our latest research is aiming to understand this relationship in more detail – particularly how gender may play a role.
My team at Coventry University worked in collaboration with Middlesex University and the University of South Carolina to assess eight different motor skills in a group of 248 children aged between 6-11. 112 were boys and 136 were girls. The skills, which we assessed using video analysis, were sprint run, side gallop, hop, kick, catch, overarm throw, vertical jump and static balance. The children were then put into three groups which reflected their fundamental movement skills as either low, medium or high.
What we found was that body fatness was significantly higher among girls in the low FMS category compared with boys in the same category.
This 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.
We already know from other studies that we have carried out that there are windows of opportunity throughout childhood when kids can develop motor skills that will significantly improve many areas of their life, including boosting social skills and even academic prowess. It is very important that parents take an active role in helping children reach these milestones, whether that is regularly kicking a ball around the yard or playing throwing games in the local park. Girls should be included in all these activities since it is clear that there are demonstrable consequences if they miss out.