Obese adults have very poor motor skills which makes fine movements difficult for them, according to a new study presented at the European Congress of Endocrinology. The findings suggest inactivity may not be a cause of obesity, but instead a result of poor motor skills associated with the condition. The work changes perceptions about inactivity in obese people as well as improving their quality of life.

Lack of motor coordination can make everyday tasks such as buttoning a shirt or tying a shoelace difficult, which has a huge impact on quality of life and ability to engage in physical activity.

Researchers at the Dublin City University in the School of Health and Human Performance tested motor skills in 44 obese participants and 44 matched controls. They did this by looking at the ability to synchronise the swinging of a wrist pendulum with an oscillating ball displayed on a screen. A similar experiment was done using an audio signal moving from the left to the right ear. They found that obese participants were able to synchronise with the visual and audio signal far less accurately than non-obese participants.

Dr Johann Issartel who led the study said "To make an analogy with a dance performance, one can imagine that the obese person is like somebody dancing just off the beat of the music."

The results indicate that lack of physical activity may not a result of obesity but actually a consequence of perceptual-motor difficulties. "Often people consider obese people to be inactive by choice and clumsy when they are active. The work is an important step towards changing the perception that the public has of obese people," said Dr Issartel.

The next stage of the research is to identify the cause of motor skill difficulty. "We believe that the origin of the perceptual problem may be linked to brain inflammation," said Dr Issartel. "When we can pinpoint the root cause, we should be in a position to develop behavioural strategies to improve motor skills in obese patients rather than using medical interventions. This will break the vicious cycle of obesity and inactivity and mean that obese patients are more likely to be comfortable engaging in physical activity," he explained.