Physical Literacy, Physical Activity and Health: Toward an Evidence-Informed Conceptual Model

  • John CairneyEmail author
  • Dean Dudley
  • Matthew Kwan
  • Rheanna Bulten
  • Dean Kriellaars
Review Article


Physical literacy (PL) provides a powerful lens for examining movement in relation to physical activity (PA) and motor skill outcomes, environmental context, and broader social and affective learning processes. To date, limited consideration has been given to the role PL plays in promoting positive health behaviours. There is no clear conceptual framework based on existing empirical evidence that links PL to health, nor has an evidence-informed case been made for such a position. The purpose of this paper is to (1) present a conceptual model positioning PL as a health determinant, and (2) present evidence in support of PL as a health determinant, drawing on research largely from outside physical education. Viewing PL from the perspective of a multidimensional, experiential convergence process enables it to be differentiated from other models. However, parallels between our model and existing models that focus on movement competence are also drawn. Arguing from a pragmatic perspective on PL, we present evidence for positioning PL as a determinant of health from two literature sources: research on motor coordination disorders in children, and associations between motor competence, PA and health in typically developing children. Statistical modelling approaches consistent with the concept of PL are discussed. Results from these approaches—confirmatory factor analysis and cluster analysis—support the idea that measures related to motor competence, motivation and positive affect work in an integrative manner to produce differences in PA and subsequent health outcomes in children. There is increasing interest in PL, particularly in the field of public health. Presenting a model that explicitly links PL to health can lead to the generation of new research questions and the possibility of broadening impact beyond the context of physical education alone. To date, there has been little conceptual attention to what positioning PL as a determinant of health means. By providing an evidence-based model of PL as a determinant of health, we hope to further the discussion and stimulate increased empirical research in the field.


Author Contributions

JC conceived the review, wrote and edited significant sections of the manuscript, and assisted with the literature review. DD wrote and edited sections of the manuscript, contributed expertise to the written material and assisted with the literature review. MK wrote and edited sections of the manuscript and contributed expertise to the written material. RB wrote and edited sections of the manuscript, assisted with the literature review and formatted the manuscript. DK edited significant sections of the manuscript and contributed expertise to the written material. All authors reviewed and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this article.

Conflict of interest

John Cairney, Dean Dudley, Matthew Kwan, Rheanna Bulten and Dean Kriellaars declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this review.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical EducationUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Infant and Child Health Lab, Department of Family MedicineMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  3. 3.Faculty of Human SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  4. 4.Department of KinesiologyMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  5. 5.Department of Physical Therapy, College of Rehabilitation SciencesUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada

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