Children with poor hand control and coordination are more likely to become obese adults, researchers said on Wednesday.
The finding adds to a growing body of evidence linking poorer cognitive function in childhood to obesity and type 2 diabetes in adults.
A study of thousands of British children found those with the worst cognitive and physical function at the ages of seven and 11 years were far more likely to be obese in later life.
“It’s not a question of people who are already overweight becoming clumsy because the majority of these children weren’t any heavier than their peers,” researcher Scott Montgomery said in a telephone interview.
“It was assumed that all the neurological complications associated with obesity were consequences of obesity itself. This suggests that’s not the case.”
The findings held true even after adjusting for factors likely to influence the results, such as childhood body mass and family social class, he noted.
What lies behind the link is unclear but Montgomery believes it could be a function of factors such as maternal smoking during pregnancy or lack of exercise in childhood. The latter is important for developing fine motor control.
The new study by experts from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and London’s Imperial College is based on more than 11,000 individuals participating in Britain’s ongoing National Child Development Study, which began in 1958.
Around 8,000 of them were assessed by teachers at age seven years to identify hand control and clumsiness, and just under 7,000 were tested for hand control and coordination at age 11 by a doctor.
The results were published in the British Medical Journal.
Scientists are finding a surprising number of connections between neurological problems and obesity. Earlier this week, U.S. researchers reported that running reduced the risk not only of heart disease but also of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s — as well as cancer.