Physical activity and motor skills in children with and without visual impairments

Physical activity and motor skills in children with and without visual impairments

Houwen, S., Hartman, E., & Cisscher, C. (2009). Physical activity and motor skills in children with and without visual impairments. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40(1), 103-109.

Abstract written by: Jeni Pierce

Visual impairment is thought to decrease the level of physical activity and thus reduce motor skill performance. This study examines the level of physical activity in children with and without visual impairments to determine whether physical activity levels change with level of visual impairment, the relationship between body composition and physical activity, as well as the correlation between physical activity and motor skills.

A total of 96 participants ranging from ages 6 to 12 were recruited for this study. Of these participants, 48 had a visual impairment while the remaining 48 did not have a visual impairment. A visual impairment was considered to be low vision without any other impairment that may have interfered with participation in the study.

All 96 participants were given accelerometers that recorded their physical activity. Participants were asked to wear these at all times except for sleeping and water activities. Recordings took place for 4 days with a minimum of 10 hours per day. Gross motor skills were tested by performing locomotor (run, jump, hop) and object control activities (catch, kick, over and underhand roll). These skills were scored based on completion of all components of that particular skill. Brightly colored objects were used to aid those with visual impairments. A body composition test was conducted on each participant using a leg-to-leg bioelectrical impedance analyzer. Body Mass Index (BMI) was also calculated using height and weight.

The level of physical activity measured was greater in those participants without a visual impairment than those with a visual impairment. However, moderate to vigorous activity did not necessarily increase with a decrease in visual impairment. In participants with visual impairments, it was found that the greater amount of time spent being sedentary, the greater the BMI and body fat content. There was no significant relationship for BMI and physical activity for the non-visually impaired. As for motor skills, participants with visual impairments who were sedentary scored lower in locomotor skills than those who participated in at least light physical activity. Those who were moderately active scored higher in object control than those who were sedentary. Participants without a visual impairment who were more active scored higher in both locomotor and object control skills than their sedentary peers.

Based on these findings, it appears that children with visual impairments are less physically active than their non-visually impaired peers. While it seems as though the level of physical activity can influence motor skill performance, the study failed to determine if lack of physical activity was due to the lower level of motor skills, or if the motor skills were lacking because of lower physical activity.

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