Many countries around the world have embraced a concept called physical literacy to address the challenges and consequences of inactivity and childhood obesity. Today, after years in the making, the United States will have a roadmap for adopting this physical literacy concept through a plan for action, spearheaded by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play. The goal is to have implemented physical literacy principles into the programs of all organizations that touch the lives of children in the United States by 2020. The plan identifies 10 sectors where this engagement will be key, and offers recommendations for how they could work to promote physical literacy. The Prevention Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center first promoted the idea of physical literacy in our report, Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens America’s Future, and we are proud to be part of the working group that developed the plan.
What is physical literacy? There are variations of the definition in different countries, but in the U.S. we define it as the ability, confidence and desire to be physically active for life. If children learn the fundamentals of movement before the age of 12, along with gaining confidence and desire, they are more apt to be active for the rest of their lives.
The lack of physical literacy has dire consequences for our youth. Physically inactive children are more likely to gain unhealthy amounts of weight, miss school and perform worse academically. They’re twice as likely to be obese adults; they’ll earn less at work, have higher health care costs and take extra sick days. The U.S. Army has had to modify its 10-week basic training course because many of today’s recruits have lower bone density and lack basic skills that were standard among young people in earlier generations, like how to tuck and roll or move their bodies efficiently. These changes have resulted in more injuries.
Before developing the plan, the Aspen Physical Literacy Working Group conducted a global environmental scan on what other countries are doing to address this issue. Building upon the scan, the group developed the plan to promote physical literacy. The working group recognized that activities like physical education, sports and recess help children become physically literate, but there is also a need for clear benchmarks that identify how our children should be able to move at a certain age. Much like the benchmarks for reading, writing and math by grade, we need to give priority in schools to the importance of being able to move your body with skill and confidence.
Knowing how to move your body has many benefits. If children are physically literate by age 12, they will have the ability and confidence to participate in a wide range of sports, from soccer and tag, to swimming, surfing and yoga. The graphic ‘Tools for an Active Life’ illustrates the expansive list of activities children can participate in if they simply learn three vital building blocks of physical literacy: how to run, balance and swim. Acquiring such skills is a process that builds upward through all stages of development, starting at involuntary movements and continuing until motor control and movement competence is achieved and physical literacy is attained.
The Physical Literacy Plan is already supported by many U.S. organizations, but Project Play is still seeking collaboration with even more groups. Everyone has a role to play if we want to make physical literacy a standard in every sector that affects our youth, such as education, after school programs, sports, health care, media, and more.
We hope this plan will be embraced by many institutions and organizations, and we will do our best to promote the concept in both our professional and personal lives. What can you do to promote physical literacy? Join us in making physical literacy a standard to help lay the foundation for success for America’s youth.
To help implement the physical literacy plan please contact Project Play.