Motor Competence and Body Mass Index in the Preschool Years: A Pooled Cross-Sectional Analysis of 5545 Children from Eight Countries

Publication Name

Sports Medicine


Background and Objective: One in five preschool children are overweight/obese, and increased weight status over time increases the risks of poorer future health. Motor skill competence may be a protective factor, giving children the ability to participate in health-enhancing physical activity. Yet, we do not know when the relationship between motor competence and weight status first emerges or whether it is evident across the body mass index (BMI) spectrum. This study examined the association between motor skill competence and BMI in a multi-country sample of 5545 preschoolers (54.36 ± 9.15 months of age; 50.5% boys) from eight countries. Methods: Quantile regression analyses were used to explore the associations between motor skill competence (assessed using the Test of Gross Motor Development, Second/Third Edition) and quantiles of BMI (15th; 50th; 85th; and 97th percentiles), adjusted for sex, age in months, and country. Results: Negative associations of locomotor skills, ball skills, and overall motor skill competence with BMI percentiles (p < 0.005) were seen, which became stronger at the higher end of the BMI distribution (97th percentile). Regardless of sex, for each raw score point increase in locomotor skills, ball skills, and overall motor skill competence scores, BMI is reduced by 8.9%, 6.8%, and 5.1%, respectively, for those preschoolers at the 97th BMI percentile onwards. Conclusions: Public health policies should position motor skill competence as critical for children’s obesity prevention from early childhood onwards. Robust longitudinal and experimental designs are encouraged to explore a possible causal pathway between motor skill competence and BMI from early childhood.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access

Funding Number


Funding Sponsor

National Institutes of Health



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