Study finds two-thirds of Canadian children do not meet acceptable level of physical literacy

About two-thirds of Canadian children haven’t achieved an acceptable level of physical literacy, according to a large national research project in which the University of Lethbridge played a major role.

Dr. Jennifer Copeland and her colleagues say that more needs to be done to promote physical activity in children to ensure they establish healthy active living habits.

The Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO) at the CHEO Research Institute says much more needs to be done to promote physical activity in Canadian children to ensure they establish healthy active living habits and future positive health outcomes.

Dr. Jennifer Copeland, a researcher in the U of L’s Department of Kinesiology & Physical Education, led a group of graduate and undergraduate students who collected data from more than 1,300 local children aged eight to 12 as part of the 10,034-children national study. The findings point to the need for increased emphasis on enhancing physical activity programming for children on a number of fronts.

“We know how vitally important physical activity is to health and wellness, across the lifespan,” says Copeland. “Therefore, it is important we understand how to ensure children develop sufficient physical literacy, so that they can maintain – and enjoy – an active lifestyle as they grow up.”

Fourteen articles that looked at different aspects of physical literacy and the Canadian Assessment of Physical Literacy (CAPL) were published today as a special supplement in the journal BMC Public Health. Physical literacy is more than just fitness or motor skills; it includes the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.

Using the CAPL, children were assessed in a number of different areas, including handgrip strength, daily screen time, plank time, body mass index, sit-and-reach, and daily steps taken, among others. The HALO Research Group has been developing and refining the CAPL for the past 10 years, and the results of this research provide the first comprehensive assessment of the physical literacy of Canadian children.

“Through this project, we provide comprehensive evidence that Canadian children aged eight to 12 years are falling short of standards for components of physical literacy,” says Dr. Mark Tremblay, senior scientist at the CHEO Research Institute and Director for HALO. “For example, boys and girls across Canada have aerobic fitness levels at the 30th percentile of global norms and only 20 per cent are meeting physical activity guidelines.”

“Obviously these results are concerning, but studies like this are important, as they tell us not only where we are, but where we need to go,” adds Copeland. “Now we have a good picture of the current physical literacy of Canadian youth, and we can all work together to find ways to increase physical activity and improve physical literacy.”

Findings from this project have led to further refinements of the CAPL and the release of a second edition, or CAPL-2.

“Ensuring that we have the right tools for educators, coaches and parents is an important way to increase physical literacy in Canada,” says Pat Longmuir, scientist with the CHEO Research Institute, HALO Research Group. “The CAPL-2 is a shorter, easier-to-administer series of tests that can be used to assess and monitor physical literacy in Canada. The materials are available in both English and French, free of charge at”

This research study was made possible in part with support from the RBC Learn to Play Project, an initiative funded by RBC and the Public Health Agency of Canada and delivered in partnership with ParticipACTION, with additional support from Mitacs. The University of Lethbridge was one of 11 institutions across the country that participated in the project.