Background: Over the last decades, a decline in motor skills and in physical activity and an increase in obesity has been observed in children. However, there is a lack of data in young children. We tested if differences in motor skills and in physical activity according to weight or gender were already present in 2- to 4-year-old children.
Methods: Fifty-eight child care centers in the French part of Switzerland were randomly selected for the Youp'là bouge study. Motor skills were assessed by an obstacle course including 5 motor skills, derived from the Zurich Neuromotor Assessment test. Physical activity was measured with accelerometers (GT1M, Actigraph, Florida, USA) using age-adapted cut-offs. Weight status was assessed using the International Obesity Task Force criteria (healthy weight vs overweight) for body mass index (BMI).
Results: Of the 529 children (49% girls, 3.4 ± 0.6 years, BMI 16.2 ± 1.2 kg/m2), 13% were overweight. There were no significant weight status-related differences in the single skills of the obstacle course, but there was a trend (p = 0.059) for a lower performance of overweight children in the overall motor skills score. No significant weight status-related differences in child care-based physical activity were observed. No gender-related differences were found in the overall motor skills score, but boys performed better than girls in 2 of the 5 motor skills (p ≤ 0.04). Total physical activity as well as time spent in moderate-vigorous and in vigorous activity during child care were 12-25% higher and sedentary activity 5% lower in boys compared to girls (all p < 0.01).
Conclusions: At this early age, there were no significant weight status- or gender-related differences in global motor skills. However, in accordance to data in older children, child care-based physical activity was higher in boys compared to girls. These results are important to consider when establishing physical activity recommendations or targeting health promotion interventions in young children.