McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

'Playground disorder' no more: Developmental Coordination Disorder comes with increased risk of childhood obesity

By Laura Thompson
Published: June 28, 2010
John Cairney
John Cairney, an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences

Children with developmental coordination disorder are often described as being clumsy or uncoordinated. They have a hard time with handwriting and other fine motor movements. They are often the last to get picked for team sports and playground activities.

It's been known for some time that developmental coordination disorder (DCD) significantly impacts the physical, social and emotional well-being of children, but new research from McMaster University has shown that children with DCD are also at greater risk of being overweight or obese.

'For a study published in the June 28 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), John Cairney, an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, led a team of investigators to discover that children with possible developmental coordination disorder were three times more likely to be overweight than children developing typically, and the risk for obesity increased over time.

"Our results show that developmental coordination disorder was associated not only with social, academic and emotional and behavioural problems, but also with an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other disease," said Cairney, an investigator with the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research at McMaster and holder of the McMaster Family Medicine Professorship in Child Health Research.

"Although DCD has, in the past, been considered part of the normal continuum of motor proficiency or regarded as merely a 'playground disorder' that can be relegated to a secondary position in the universe of children’s health concerns, these results, along with other recent research, suggest that this is no longer acceptable."

The McMaster study followed 1,979 students from 75 schools in Ontario over a two-year period that spanned Grade 4 to the end of Grade 6. The researchers screened children for coordination difficulties and identified children who may have the disorder. They measured BMI and waist circumference. They found no difference in the prevalence rates of being overweight or obese between boys and girls with possible DCD.

The authors concluded that the findings indicate "a clear need to take a broader, longer-term view of the health consequences of developmental coordination disorder."

The study was conducted by researchers from McMaster University and Brock University, and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Developmental coordination disorder, which is manifested through coordination difficulties including fine and gross motor skills, affects five to six per cent of school-aged children. It is present from birth, but is usually not detected until later. DCD can interfere with normal daily activities including personal care, recreational involvement and academic skills such as handwriting.

For more information and resources about developmental coordination disorder, please visit the CanChild website.

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