Teachers assessed 7990 participants at the age 7 years to identify poor ability in hand control, coordination, and clumsiness, and 6875 were tested for hand control and coordination at age 11 by a doctor.
Tests involved copying a simple design to measure accuracy, marking squares on paper within a minute, and the time in seconds it took to pick up 20 matches.
At the age 33 body mass index (BMI) was measured. Obesity was defined as a BMI of 30 or over.
The study showed that at age 7 years poor hand control, poor coordination, and clumsiness occurred more often among individuals who would be obese adults.
Also, poorer function at age 11 was linked to obesity at age 33.
The results remained the same after adjusting for factors likely to influence the results, such as childhood body mass and family social class.
In the study, researchers did not look at the specific biological processes linking poorer physical control and coordination in childhood with later obesity.
"Some early life exposures [such as maternal smoking during pregnancy] or personal characteristics may impair the development of physical control and coordination, as well as increasing the risk of obesity in later life", BMJ quoted the authors, as saying.
"Rather than being explained by a single factor, an accumulation throughout life of many associated cultural, personal, and economic exposures is likely to underlie the risks for obesity and some elements of associated neurological function", they added.
The study is published on BMJ.com today.