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Poorer children struggling with movement skills competency

Poorer children struggling with movement skills competency
August 2, 2012

A growing number of Australian children show low levels of competency in fundamental movement skills, according to new research published in the international journal Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Society of Pediatrics.

The report, based on a study of 6,917 school students, also found significant lower levels of competency among children of lower socioeconomic status and those with nonEnglish-speaking cultural backgrounds.

The report, authored by a group led by Dr Louise Hardy of the School of Public Health, University of Sydney and Senior Research Fellow for the NSW Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Research Group (PANORG), suggests that most children are unskilled at basic movements such as throwing, running and jumping.

The landmark study, Prevalence and Correlates of Low Fundamental Movement Skill Competency in Children, links Australian children's lack of fundamental movement skills with their sedentary lifestyles. It highlights that less than half of Australia primary school children do the recommended 60 minutes of exercise daily and this could be linked to the decline in basic movement skills.

Dr Hardy told the Sydney Morning Herald that without basic movement skills children were less likely to participate in sports or play with their friends, had lower fitness levels and were more prone to being overweight or obese. Shee added that the number of children that do have these skills is on the decline, stating "we keep emphasising the amount of time per day children spend on physical activity, but if kids don't have the capacity to engage in those physical activities it might suggest that we should be measuring other parameters, such as their ability to run, jump and throw, first.

"Parents mistakenly believe that children naturally learn those fundamental movement skills. But children need to be taught them."

Highlighting deficiencies among children of lower socioeconomic status and those with nonEnglish-speaking cultural backgrounds, the report states "girls with low socioeconomic status (SES) were twice as likely to be less competent in locomotor skills compared with high SES peers.

"Among boys, there was a strong association between low competency in fundamental movement skills (FMS) and the likelihood of being from nonEnglish-speaking cultural backgrounds. There was a clear and consistent association between low competency in FMS and inadequate cardiorespiratory fitness.

"For boys, there was a clear association between low competency in object-control skills and not meeting physical activity recommendations. Conversely, the odds of being inactive were double among girls who had low competency in locomotor skills.

The report concludes that "low competency in FMS is strongly associated with lower cardiorespiratory fitness and physical activity levels in children and adolescents.

"The characteristics of students with competency in FMS differ by gender and skills types and show that interventions need to target girls from low SES backgrounds and boys from nonEnglish-speaking cultural backgrounds.

"The high prevalence of low competency in FMS among Grade 4 students indicates that FMS interventions need to start during the preschool and early school years."

Mel Faull, Director of children's multi-sports programs provider Sportybots believes it is important that FMS skills are introduced before primary school years, stating "there is no dispute that participating in sport and physical activity aids the development of fundamental motor skills and introducing children to fun sports and fitness programs in their preschool years is the ideal time to help educate about healthy behaviours and establish the foundations for strong FMS."

A recently released report into physical activity in NSW Government primary schools from the Audit Office of NSW estimated 30% of primary schools did not deliver two hours of planned sp

However, Dr Hardy does not just blames schools for this, adding that parents are also to blame for not playing with their children, and stating "they should be giving their kids a ball, not a DVD."

The Audit Office study assessed skills from year 2 through to high school. Though children should have mastered a basic sprint run, vertical jump, side gallop and leap by year 2, only 10% had all four skills.

Half the students had still not mastered a sprint run by high school, while high school-aged girls also showed low competency in the object-control skills of throwing, kicking and catching.

Physiological differences did not explain why boys outperformed girls in some areas because researchers assessed movement and control, not speed and strength.

Dr Hardy told the Sydney Morning Herald "it could be that girls are not getting the opportunity to participate, and certainly if you look at school ovals it is mostly boys out playing."

Mel Faull agrees, adding "I have found on average the ratio of boys to girls participating in our sports programs is five to one, which can be intimidating for many girls and affects their willingness to join in. 

"As a result we developed a girl only program that allows them to learn and develop in a comfortable environment and has been successful in increasing girl's participation rates and in turn their skill levels."

An abstract of the Prevalence and Correlates of Low Fundamental Movement Skill Competency in Children report can be read at

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