The Relationship among Motor Proficiency, Physical Fitness, and Body Composition in Children with and without Visual Impairments

By Houwen, Suzanne; Hartman, Esther et al. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, September 2010 | Go to article overview

The Relationship among Motor Proficiency, Physical Fitness, and Body Composition in Children with and without Visual Impairments


Houwen, Suzanne, Hartman, Esther, Visscher, Chris, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


This study compares the motor skills and physical fitness of school-age children (6-12 years) with visual impairments (VI; n = 60) and sighted children (n = 60). The relationships between, the performance parameters and the children's body composition are investigated as well as the role of the severity of the impairment. The degree of VI did not differentially affect the outcomes. Compared to their sighted peers, the children with VI scored lower on the locomotor and object control skills as assessed with the Test of Gross Motor Developments, and the physical fitness (Eurofit) parameters of plate tapping the standing broad jump, the modified 5 x 10-m shuttle run, and 20-m multistage shuttle run (20-MST). Their body mass and body fat indexes were inversely correlated with the standing broad jump and the 20-MST, but positively correlated with handgrip strength. Moreover, significant inverse correlations were found between their locomotor and object control skills on the one hand and plate tapping and the 5 x 10-m shuttle run on the other hand. Given, the relatively high proportion (25%) of overweight/obese children within the VI sample, educators are recommended to promote health-related activities and help enhance motor skills in this population.

Key words: body mass index, motor skills, primary school children, visually impaired

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Motor skills and physical fitness are important in the daily lives and sports activities of youths (Stodden et at, 2008), forming the foundation for present and future physical activity (Bamett, Van Beurden, Morgan, Brooks, & Beard, 2009; Dennison, Straus, Mellits, & Charney, 1988; Stodden et al.). Given that a child's failure to become competent in motor skills may prove a barrier to achieving sufficient physical activity levels and maintaining aspects of health-related physical fitness (Barnett, Van Beurden, Morgan, Brooks, & Beard, 2008; Graf et al., 2004; Stodden et al), the importance of motor skill proficiency is clear. Yet children with visual impairments (VI; legally defined as a visual acuity [less than or equal to] 20/70 in the better eye with best possible correction; World Health Organization, 2001) often have difficulty performing such skills (Bouchard & Tetreault, 2000; Houwen, Visscher, Hartman, & Lemmink, 2007; Houwen, Visscher, Lemmink, & Hartman, 2008). Using the Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency (BOTMP; Bruininks, 1978), Bouchard and Tetreault found that between the ages of 8 and 13 years, children with VI (n = 30; 21 boys) had lower scores on six of the eight subtests of the BOTMP relative to their sighted peers and that balance was the skill most affected. In a recent study by our group (Houwen et al., 2008), 7- to 10-year-old children with VI (n= 48; 32 boys) also had poorer scores relative to sighted children on five of the eight items of the Movement Assessment Battery for Children (Movement ABC; Henderson & Sugden, 1992). We had earlier observed that children with VI (n = 20; 11 boys) scored poorer on the object control subtest of the Test of Gross Motor Development-2 (TGMD-2; Ulrich, 2000) than their unimpaired counterparts, while the groups did not differ in the locomotor subtest performance (Houwen et al., 2007).

A variable that may be related to the motor skill performance of children with VI is physical fitness level. Physical fitness is a multidimensional concept that denotes "a set of attributes that relate to the ability to perform physical activity, such as cardiorespiratory endurance, strength, flexibility, speed, and power" (Pate et al., 1995, p. 402). Several studies assessing adolescents with VI (11-19 years) showed that physical fitness levels in this age group were low compared to unimpaired peers and characterized by reduced flexibility, cardiorespiratory endurance, muscle endurance, strength, and speed (Gronmo & Augestad, 2000; Lieberman & McHugh, 2001). It is believed that physical fitness may be associated with motor skill performance in that low fitness levels may hinder the acquisition and performance of motor skills (Bouchard & Tetreault, 2000). …

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