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Previous studies have suggested that neurological factors partly explain the reduced motor competence found in many children with obesity. Accordingly, the aim of this study was to compare motor competence and white matter organization of important pathways for motor control (cerebellar peduncles) in children with and without obesity. Nineteen children with obesity and 25 children with a healthy weight, aged 7–11 years old, were included. Anthropometric measurements were taken and the level of motor competence was assessed using the Movement Assessment Battery for Children (2nd Edition). Children’s brain was scanned using diffusion weighted imaging preceded by a standard anatomical scan. Fractional anisotropy and mean diffusivity were extracted from the cerebellar peduncles. Obese children’s level of motor competence was significantly lower than that in healthy weight peers (p  <  0.05). Additionally, significant group differences (p  <  0.05) were found for values of fractional anisotropy, but not for mean diffusivity. Further analyses revealed that lower values of fractional anisotropy in the inferior (p = 0.040) and superior (p = 0.007) cerebellar peduncles were present in children with obesity compared to children with a healthy weight. After controlling for multiple comparisons (p  <  0.0167), only significant differences in the superior cerebellar peduncle remained significant. Our results showed that childhood obesity is accompanied by reduced motor competence and alterations in white matter organization. This suggests that the motor difficulties of children with obesity are not solely due to carrying excess weight, which may have implications for prevention and intervention programs.


Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research

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Journal Article

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