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Aim  Motor skill impairment is a common negative outcome in children born preterm who do not develop cerebral palsy (CP). This study aimed to conduct a systematic review of current data to provide an accurate estimate of the prevalence of non-CP motor impairment in preterm children at school age.

Method  We searched the Medline, PubMed, and PsycInfo databases and relevant journals to identify all studies published post-1990 that reported the prevalence of motor impairment in school-aged children born preterm (<37wks’ gestation) using standardised motor assessment batteries. We applied a range of exclusionary criteria, with 11 studies included in the final analyses. We identified two levels of motor impairment commonly reported – mild–moderate and moderate – and conducted a random effects meta-analysis to produce a prevalence estimate for each.

Results  The pooled estimate for mild–moderate impairment in preterm children was 40.5/100. and for moderate motor impairment the estimate was 19.0/100. There was also a trend for lower motor impairment levels in samples born before 1990 compared with those born after 1990.

Interpretation  Children born preterm are at increased risk of motor impairment, with prevalence three to four times greater than in the general population. This highlights the need for improved surveillance and intervention strategies in this group of children.