I have been reading a lot lately about physical activity, particularly among youth. Not only does PA have good physiological effects, but it also helps people who might encounter other factors that could impede their health (see work I have completed with both Edwards and Walker). The benefits of PA are especially helpful among people who need it most, such as those who have little access to it, people who are overweight, and the elderly, among others.
In reviewing the PA literature, I recently read the Aspen Institute's publication: "Physical Literacy: A Global Environment Scan." In this report, the authors analyze physical literacy across countries. According to Physical and Health Education Canada, physical literacy is, "moving with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person." In England, the Youth Sport Trust defined physical literacy as: "the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding that provides children with the movement foundation for lifelong participation in physical activity. Enabling them to be physically literate supports their development as competent, confident, and healthy movers." As these and other definitions suggest, people who are physically literate are more likely to be physically active and reap the benefits of PA. Further, countries that focus on physical literacy see widespread benefits across the population.
The analysis showed that three countries have well developed physical literacy initiatives: Canada, England, and Wales. In the United States, efforts to promote physical literacy are scattered (at best) and lack the funding needed to sustain them.
The authors also highlighted the following conclusions:
- Countries generally adopt a definition of physical literacy to suit their context and background. This is shown in the definitions I provided above.
- The countries with the most developed physical literacy initiatives deliver the programs through highly developed sport and educational systems.
- The most effective counties also have consistent, purposeful messaging related to the benefits of physical literacy.
- While physical literacy is associated with a host of benefits, the initiatives frequently arise for financial motives, as a way to combat rising health care costs.
- Government funding is in place to offer physical literacy programs in areas and for populations that might not otherwise have access, such as the poor and people from underserved populations.
- The most effective programs are grass-roots in nature, where many people are committed to ensuring physical literacy.
- Assessment tools have recently been developed as a way of analyzing the successes and shortcomings of physical literacy programs.
The report offers a thorough overview of physical literacy across many countries. The conclusions can serve as guiding principles for sport organizations, communities, and countries seeking to more effectively promote physical activity .