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Physical control and coordination in childhood and adult obesity: longitudinal birth cohort study

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 13 August 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a699
  1. Walter Osika, research fellow1,
  2. Scott M Montgomery, professor234
  1. 1Department of Cardiology, Örebro University Hospital, SE-701 85 Örebro, Sweden
  2. 2Clinical Research Centre, Örebro University Hospital
  3. 3Department of Primary Care and Social Medicine, Charing Cross Hospital, Imperial College, London
  4. 4Clinical Epidemiology Unit, Department of Medicine at Karolinska University Hospital, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to: W Osika osika{at}
  • Accepted 5 June 2008


Objective To identify whether measures of childhood physical control and coordination as markers of neurological function are associated with obesity in adults.

Design Longitudinal birth cohort study.

Setting National child development study in Great Britain.

Participants 11 042 people born during one week in 1958.

Main outcome measure Obesity at age 33 years defined as body mass index ≥30.

Results Among 7990 cohort members at age 7 years, teachers reported that poor hand control, poor coordination, and clumsiness “certainly applied” more often among those who would be obese adults, producing adjusted odds ratios of 1.57 (95% confidence interval 1.13 to 2.20; P=0.008) for poor hand control, 2.30 (1.52 to 3.46; P<0.001) for poor coordination, and 3.91 (2.61 to 5.87; P<0.001) for clumsiness. Among 6875 participants who had doctor administered assessments with continuous scores at age 11 years, poorer function was associated with later obesity, indicated by adjusted odds ratios (change in risk per unit increase in score) of 0.88 (0.81 to 0.96; P=0.003) for copying designs, 0.84 (0.78 to 0.91; P<0.001) for marking squares, and 1.14 (1.06 to 1.24; P<0.001) for picking up matches (a higher score indicates poor function in this test). Further adjustment for contemporaneous body mass index at age 7 or 11 years did not eliminate statistical significance for any of the associations.

Conclusion Some aspects of poorer neurological function associated with adult obesity may have their origins in childhood.


  • Contributors: SMM suggested and developed the idea and contributed to the design and analysis, interpretation of results, and writing the paper. WO contributed to the development of the idea and contributed to the design, interpretation of results, and writing the paper. SMM is the guarantor.

  • Funding: The participation of SMM in this study was funded by Economic and Social Research Council grant RES—596-28-0001 to the International Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health.

  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • Ethical approval: Not required for this analysis of anonymous data, although consent was initially obtained from parents before data collection and was subsequently sought from individual cohort members in later sweeps, including for access to medical records. Regional ethics committee approval was obtained for data collection involving medical examinations.

  • Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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