Reactions to ‘Physical Literacy Commentary from the National Physical Activity Plan Team’

February 10, 2016

On January 27th, the NPAP e-newsletter sent along two perspectives about ‘Physical Literacy’ from lead scientists in physical activity promotion.


Physical literacy is the ability, confidence, and desire

 to be physically active for a lifetime.



Dr. Thomas McKenzie wrote the “Physical Literacy and the Rose: What Would Shakespeare Say?” against the term while Dr. Paul Roetert’s “Physical Literacy: More than Just a New Fad” provided support for the term and its implications.


When this first came across my desk over two weeks ago, I knew had I to bookmark the commentary and give it the attention I felt this deserved; particularly as I serve as the physical activity specialist in Virginia Cooperative Extension. With Cycle I of NIH grant funding complete (fingers crossed), I can envelop my senses with a latte and the commentary on 'Physical Literacy.'


In his commentary, McKenzie states that “there is no evidence that adopting the new term, physical literacy, will be a viable solution to the physical inactivity problem. We would much prefer evidence-based action that directly addresses population level physical inactivity. We are fairly certain that whatever label is used, it alone won’t solve the global crisis of sedentary living.” Ouch. And... Yes.


Most disturbing? The comparison of physical education goals before and after the replacement of ‘physically educated’ with ‘physical literate,’ which has moved “P.E.” to be more ‘academic, sedentary, and cognitive.’


The Table below is from Lounsbery & McKenzie’s  review of the previous (2004) and current (2013) PE goals.


As I got to the next set of concerns that "students may come to believe that thinking and writing about physical activity is more important than actually engaging in it.” I found myself nodding my head. Ok, so what's the support for 'physical literacy?'


Dr. Roetert's commentary was predicated on the idea that 'physical literacy' helps P.E. classes to better align with other educational topics such as 'health literacy' or 'math literacy.' In this way, P.E. can be held to higher educational rigor and provide:


"A renewed focus on the importance of the physical educator in the school setting


Deliberate practice of well-designed learning tasks that allow for skill acquisition in an instructional climate focused on mastery


Recognition of the term “literacy”, paralleling the terminology used in other subjects such as health, reading and mathematics


Adoption of the concept within sport, recreation and other physical activities to create lifetime opportunities for all


Embracing the concept to enrich the quality of our own lives as well as those around us


A decrease in sedentary behavior, overall inactivity and obesity rates in our country." (Roetert)


However, in this way it appears that, regardless of the term, the ball is in the court of the school and the educator...What does that look like in practice?



This goes to McKenzie's argument that this change in the standards was put forward "without widespread consultation within the physical education profession (e.g., debate at national conferences) or extensive marketing research."


Without input from those who deliver physical education or promote physical literacy,  these promising outcomes may not:

1. reach the 55 million youth enrolled in K-12;

2. effect individuals' sedentary time and obesity rates;

3. improve the proportion and representativeness of PE teachers and schools adopting the language and objectives;

4. be implemented with fidelity to provide opportunites for "valuing" and "mastering" physical activity;

5. youth may not maintain physical activity behaviors for life (even if they 'value' physical activity) and schools may not maintan rigorous physical education practices.


[See the RE-AIM framework for more details on these highlighted issues of generalizability].


Now that I've been sedentary while writing this, time to walk the dog.


What are your thoughts?


For more information, see the links and references below.


Until next time,



Our lab is interested in behavioral skills to support ongoing engagement in physical activity. [Stop, drop, and yoga (?)].




Lounsbery MAF, McKenzie T L. Physically literate and physically educated: A rose by any other name? J Sport Health Sci. 2015;4:35-40.


Physical Literacy: More than Just a New Fad:


Physical Literacy and the Rose: What Would Shakespeare Say?


To view the NPAP website:


To sign up for the NPAP e-newsletter:


The RE-AIM framework:






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