Balance ability underlies most physical movement across life, with particular importance for older adults. No study has investigated if balance ability is established in childhood nor if associations are independent of adult factors. We investigated associations between balance performance in early (age 10) and midlife (age 46), and whether associations were independent of contributors to adult balance.
Up to 6024 individuals from the 1970 British Cohort Study were included. At age 10, static (1-legged stand) and dynamic (backward toe-to-heel walk) balance were categorized as poor, medium, or high. Eyes open and closed 1-legged balance performance (max: 30 seconds) was assessed at age 46 with 5 categories.
Poor static balance at age 10 was strongly associated with worse balance ability at age 46. Relative to the highest balance group at age 46 (ie, eyes open and closed for 30 seconds), those with poor static balance had a 7.07 (4.92–10.16) greater risk of being in the poorest balance group (ie, eyes open <15 seconds). Associations were robust to adjustment for childhood illness, cognition, and socioeconomic position and adult measures of height, BMI, education, exercise, word recall, and grip strength (adjusted relative risk: 5.04 [95% confidence interval: 3.46–7.37]). Associations between dynamic balance at age 10 and balance at age 46 were weaker (adjusted relative risk) of the poorest balance group: 1.84 [1.30–2.62]).
Early childhood may represent an important period for maturation of postural strategies involved in balance, indicating the potential for early intervention and policy changes alongside existing interventions that currently target older adults.