Better Childhood Motor Skills Lower Mortality

Higher scores on childhood coordination tests are associated with lower risk of mortality.

G. David Batty, PhD, DSc

Better childhood motor coordination was associated with lower mortality up to middle age, according to recent study findings.

G. David Batty, PhD, DSc, and a team of United Kingdom-based investigators used the British National Child Development Study to examine the association of performance of a series of psychomotor coordination tests in childhood with mortality up to 6 decades later. Typically, poor performance on standard tests of motor skills in children was linked to sedentary behavior, obesity, and functional capacity later in life.

The findings suggested that those with higher scores on childhood coordination tests were associated with lower risk of mortality in a stepwise manner.

Batty, from the Department of Epidemiology & Public Health at University College London in the United Kingdom, and the investigators used a database of more than 17,00 individuals who underwent a series of psychomotor coordination tests in childhood. The participants were followed up over several decades.

For children who were 7 years old, motor skills were sought from the teacher or parent, while at 11 and 16 years old, school medical officers administered the tests.

In 1 test, each child was told to stand on their right foot for 15 seconds, to stand heel-to-toe for 15 seconds, and to walk backward toe-to-heel for 20 steps along a line with hands on hips. Their performance was categorized into 1 of 3 groups: very steady, slightly unsteady, or very unsteady.

In a second test, the child needed to stand with their forearm horizontal. A study member bounced a ball and the child was told to catch the ball with their palm facing downward. The investigator recorded the number of catches out of 10 attempts: 0-8, 9, and 10 catches (best).

Another test included a child individually picking up and moving 20 matches from 1 matchbox to another. Investigators recorded and categorized the time taken to complete the task: 0-36 second (fastest); 37-43 seconds; 44-50 seconds; and >50 seconds.

Overall, 17,415 children underwent the series of tests. Of the sample analyzed of 12,678 participants, 51% were male and 72% came from a lower social group.

For mortality surveillance between 12-58 years old in a sample of 17,062 individuals, there were 1072 deaths in 766,661 person-years at risk.

When adjusted for sex, higher scores on 7 of the 9 coordination tests were associated with a lower mortality risk.

Lower mortality was statistically significantly associated with 3 tests after controlling for early-life socioeconomic, health, cognitive, and developmental factors: ball catching at 11 years old (0-8 vs 10 catches: HR, 1.57; 95% CI, 1.19-2.07), match-picking at 11 years old (>50 vs 0-36 seconds: HR, 1.33; 95% CI, 1.09-1.63), and hopping at 16 years old (very unsteady vs very steady: HR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.01-1.63).

There was a higher concentration of deaths in children who had lower coordination scores.

Although the findings highlighted such, the investigators suggested that lower scores could be due to mental health problems and that the data would need to be replicated.

The study, “Association of Childhood Psychomotor Coordination With Survival Up to 6 Decades Later,” was published in JAMA Network Open.