Motor control

Childhood obesity is strongly associated with motor control deficits

Almost all children grow up playing sports. Even if they don’t like it, everyone plays soccer and t-ball for at least one season. Parents know that it is beneficial for the development of their child. Plus, it keeps the child busy in a constructive and healthy way, giving parents a break. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

One of the benefits of playing team sports during childhood is the long-term athletic development it creates. Long-term athleticism may not be at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts when signing up for t-ball, but hear me out. Even if a child is clearly not the next Lebron James and has no desire to pursue a sports career, sports have lifelong benefits. They develop what is called motor control. Think of motor control as coordination. Learning to swing a bat or dribble a basketball is something you may never need to do as an adult. However, developing the ability to do so will develop total body coordination, which will make other things easier later in life. Everyone needs athletics, whether you’re an athlete or not. Developing reasonable motor control in childhood will reduce the likelihood of injury and chronic pain in adulthood. That’s one of the great things about youth sports. They learn and develop so much mentally and physically in a way that will serve them well in life.

That being said, I strongly encourage every parent to enroll their child in various sports. It’s okay if they don’t like one in particular. Play basketball for a season. Learn to dribble and pass a ball. Life skills learned. Learn to throw a baseball, kick a ball where you want it to go, or learn to swim! Acquiring such skills will create a healthy, competent and well-rounded child and adult.

Obesity and motor control

The biggest enemy to the development of these skills and motor control is obesity. It’s hard for some parents to hear, but obesity is never acceptable for children. Even if you think your child is the next great lineman for the Packers, being overweight is detrimental to children’s athletic development.

Research shows that severe obesity in children can lead to a motor control deficit of 11-59%. This can therefore slow or even stop athletic development. This can negatively alter a child’s physical development, greatly increasing the likelihood of a lifetime of pain and injury when older. It also dramatically increases the risk of lifelong obesity and its many related diseases.

How many?

We have established the importance of motor control for all children. Whether they have athletic aspirations or not, sport is a great way to develop motor control. I would even go so far as to say that they are essential for the optimal development of children.

With that, I would recommend that every child play at least three seasons of two sports. Three seasons should give the child a good command of the sport. This should be enough to develop enough skills to be a healthier, more athletic adult.

Three seasons of two sports is the minimum. The more sport, the better. But never practice the same sport all year round. No child or adult should play soccer, baseball, basketball or any other sport in the fall, winter, spring and summer. This is largely why there has been a massive increase in youth sports injuries over the past few decades. That’s for another article. Do not practice a sport all year round. Already. Please!

Bigger is not better

We have also established that obesity is never an advantage for a child. Long-term negative consequences are almost guaranteed. Bigger kids tend to be the best players at a young age, as their weight can give them an advantage in most sports. This can give parents the wrong idea of ​​their child’s level of athleticism. However, research shows that pound for pound, obese children tend to be weaker than smaller ones. This trajectory typically continues into adulthood, increasing the likelihood of pain and injury. The strength advantage is there when they’re eight, but won’t be there in high school and beyond. As they get older and their skills improve, the weight advantage matters less and less.

How to Fight Childhood Obesity and Improve Motor Control

Two major factors contribute to childhood obesity:

  • nutrition
  • lack of activity

Nutrition is a big topic that is beyond the scope of this article. However, all children should have regular check-ups with their doctor. This is the most critical step in the fight against childhood obesity. Every pediatrician should be concerned that their patients are obese at a young age. Parents should follow their advice and seek help from other specialists if necessary. We have pointed out that childhood obesity has no long-term athletic benefit, with even more serious consequences inevitable in adulthood. If a doctor’s advice doesn’t help, seeking help from a dietitian would be the next necessary step. Nutrition is a complex subject and can be particularly difficult with children. An RD can help tremendously.

More than nutrition, parents should play a bigger and more active role in their child’s activity levels. This is another great advantage for the sport. For a child, sport is nothing more than organized play. Learning to play a sport will be more beneficial than anything a child can watch on television. Every parent should take advantage of this.

A study of 7-9 year old boys showed that a twelve-week plyometric program could significantly improve motor control. The study was limited to 7-9 year old boys, but we know that the same logic can be applied to all children of all ages. Plyometrics basically refers to athletic movements like various types of running, jumping, and catching. Again, sports are dominated by such activity. It will also help fight obesity in a fun and enjoyable way for kids.

Take action

Raising children is difficult. Having an obese child does not mean you have done anything wrong. However, it is not something that should be ignored or encouraged in the name of athletics. Childhood obesity leads to mild and sometimes severe motor control deficits, which can have many long-term negative impacts at all stages of life. Some strategies:

  1. Sign them up for sports. They will learn many life skills and make friends. If they don’t like a particular sport, find another one they might like. They don’t have to do this forever, but it’s a good idea to try at least one variety.
  2. Get regular medical checkups. Many parents have no idea how much weight their child should weigh or if they are lagging behind in motor skill development. Tracking their growth can be vital to keeping your child healthy.
  3. Ask for help when needed. If you find out your child is obese, don’t beat yourself up. Seek professional care from a doctor or dietitian if necessary. They will probably have excellent solutions that your child will comply with.
  4. Be there. Children need the presence of a parent to have a healthy relationship with everything discussed in this article. Children are eager to please their parents. Be there as much as you can to encourage them to be better athletes and healthier kids. It will serve you and your child well later in life.