The National Academy of Health and Physical Literacy (NAHPL; The Academy) is a diverse, inclusive, member-driven organization advancing the dimensions of health and physical literacy through professional development, advocacy, mentoring, and applied research in the areas of health, physical education, dance, and sport. The Academy was founded in 2020 by nine professional educators fueled by the desire to focus on health and physical literacy for the sole purpose of promoting the knowledge, health, productivity, and fulfilment of its members.
Literacy encompasses the integration of education and learning to assist individuals in accomplishing their goals, developing their knowledge and potential, and participating in their community and wider society (Montoya, 2018). To function well in the 21st century, all individuals must possess a wide range of skills and abilities referred to as “literacies.” Literacy development is a shared responsibility. Every discipline including health, physical education, dance and sport, is responsible for developing, strengthening, and enhancing literacy as each area has its own set of unique literacy demands.
Personal Health Literacy is the degree to which individuals have the ability to find,
understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for
themselves and others (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion [ODPHP], n.d.).
Physical Literacy is the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and
understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life
(International Physical Literacy Association, n.d.).
Early on, health literacy was not entirely supported in health education or other fields until the concept appeared in the field of health promotion in a paper written by Kickbusch (1997). Following Kickbusch, a glossary on health promotion was developed by Nutbeam (1998) where he contended that health literacy should be a key outcome of health education activity, that it should be an essential part of the larger concept of health promotion, and that health promotion workers should be held accountable for developing health literacy.
The field of health literacy has grown far beyond the academic peer-reviewed literature that was present in the 1990s. Since that time, there has been an increasing number of conferences with a specific focus on health literacy, as well as conferences with a more general focus on public health, also addressing health literacy. Both types of conferences have attracted a greater number of attendees as individuals are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of health literacy (Pleasant, 2011).
Health literacy was elevated in status when it was included in Healthy People 2030 (ODPHP, n.d.). The Healthy People initiative began in 1979 with Surgeon General Julius Richmond’s report “Healthy People: The Surgeon General’s Report on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention” (ODPHP, n.d.). Healthy People has been gathering information for four decades; the most recent version is the fifth iteration since its inception. The Healthy People 2030 definition of personal health literacy reflects changes from those used in Healthy People 2010 and Healthy People 2020 with an “increased focus on health equity, social determinants of health, and health literacy – with a new focus on well-being” (ODPHP, n.d.).
For the first time in the history of the Healthy People national objectives, the workgroups specifically considered health literacy as a key focus. The emphasis on health literacy is displayed within the foundational principles and overarching goals of Healthy People 2030 (ODPHP, n.d.). The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee noted that with the increased amount of research and practice, there was a better understanding that the responsibility for health literacy should not fall solely on individuals (Issue Brief, 2018). Health literacy is a responsibility shared by organizations and professionals who develop and provide health services and information.
Health literacy involves professionals from both the health and literacy fields coming together to promote the idea that health and literacy are critical for everyday living. An individual’s literacy level impacts their ability to act on health information to make informed decisions, and take control of their health as individuals, families, and communities. The new definition of health literacy— with its emphasis on the use of health information and its public health perspective — may also prompt new ways of studying and promoting personal health literacy. In addition, it encourages efforts to address the skills that help people move from understanding to action and from a focus on their own health to a focus on the health of their communities (ODPHP, n. d.).
Although physical literacy is often considered a 21st century concept, Whitehead acknowledged that the term physical literacy was already being used within the education profession, and within physical education, for some time prior to the 2001 paper entitled “The Concept of Physical Literacy” being published (Whitehead, 2001). The term physical literacy can be traced back as early as the late 1800s (Cairney, Kiez, Roetert, Kriellaars, 2019). As a result of Whitehead’s work, the modern concept and definition of physical literacy and its characteristics were created. Since 2001, a significant body of research has been conducted, and presented globally, to further develop the construct of physical literacy. Physical literacy is a highly pursued construct that values an individual’s physical existence in order to improve physical movement for the purpose of achieving a particular goal (Lundvall, 2015).
Whitehead’s initial motivation for developing the concept of physical literacy was centered on the following four principles: 1) Whitehead’s interest in the philosophical concepts of monism, phenomenology, and existentialism. Monism is the belief that the mind and body are interdependent and indivisible, existentialism suggests that every person is an individual because of their interactions, and phenomenology proposes that individuals are formed by their interactions and experiences, and suggests that perceptions through their embodied nature forms how they view the world (Whitehead, 2007); 2) The notion that movement development was perceived to be inferior to language, numeracy, and social development within early childhood (Whitehead, 2010); 3) Physical literacy could speak to the shift away from physical activity as part of everyday lifestyle and could potentially improve the value physical activity has on the lifespan (Whitehead, 2010); and 4) The growing concern regarding the trajectory of physical education within the schools, which, according to Whitehead, placed too much emphasis on high-level performance and elitism within physical education (Whitehead, 2010).
Physical literacy has become well known as a concept that depicts the desire to participate in physical activity while gaining significant and rewarding experiences when doing so. It redefines one's understanding of physical activity, while focusing on the holistic development of one’s physical ability (Whitehead, 2010). This approach has become quite common in many countries around the world who are now embracing physical literacy as a means for promoting health among their citizens (Jurbala, 2015; Tremblay & Lloyd, 2010). Although physical literacy continues to gain momentum, the definition and underlying concept of physical literacy continue to be questioned in both research and practice often due to institutions having different purposes and philosophies (Tremblay & Lloyd, 2010). Therefore, various characteristics and descriptors have been used by a mixture of individuals and groups when defining physical literacy.
While the concept of physical literacy has evolved over time, the focus has remained on fundamental movement skills related to participation in sport and recreation. Although there have been several iterations of the definition of physical literacy since 2001 (Whitehead, 2010), Whitehead and colleagues at the IPLA have consistently maintained the characteristics of motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding as well as the notion that the concept is applicable throughout the life course.
Given the changing landscape of education at all levels (PK-12 and post-secondary), The Academy founders recognized a need in the areas of leadership, mentoring, advocacy, and professional development, as it pertained to advancing health and physical literacy. In addition, the founders wanted to provide an outlet for the dissemination of applied research for practitioners, in the areas of health, physical education, dance, and sport, who support advancing health and physical literacy at all levels. Recognizing the interconnectedness of all professionals in allied health fields, and their contributions to health and physical literacy across the lifespan, The Academy is committed to fostering member networking with other professionals working in these arenas.
The Academy seeks to grow and advance professional leaders who will interact and network on national and global levels to expand the health and physical literacy of children and adults. As a member and mission centered organization, The Academy encourages and facilitates active participation by all members, advocating for health and physical literacy. Based on the definitions of health and physical literacy guiding its work, The Academy recognizes the consanguinity of professionals in the fields of health, physical education, dance, and sport and their roles in advancing health and physical literacy for all individuals. Health professionals and health educators have a natural tie to expanding health literacy for all individuals. Physical educators in PK-12 support health and physical literacy through their work with students at every level of instruction. Kinesiology professionals in higher education extend this commitment as they prepare post-secondary students to enter the job market in a variety of Kinesiology related fields. Dance professionals are integral in promoting physical literacy for all individuals through the artistry and activity that dance and dance education provide. Physical activity and sport professionals, across multiple fields (e.g., coaching, fitness, sport management, sport administration, sports medicine, etc.), also support the lifetime pursuit of improving health and physical literacy in a multicultural society.
The Academy provides members with a contemporary professional organization for pre- professional and professional persons across the spectrum of health and physical literacy. Organized as a national structure, with four (4) geographical regions, members can be involved at the frontline nationally and/or regionally. With health and physical literacy at the heart of quality professional development, members will learn, share, and grow through face-to- face and virtual interactions with a wide variety of presenters and programs.
Within the national and regional structures, annual summits are offered whereby members can attend, participate, and present program sessions, while gaining new perspectives in health and physical literacy. Not only will participation in a summit provide contemporary professional development, the interaction with other professionals who share career experiences and challenges can fuel the spirit and positively impact success.
Membership in The Academy provides a wide range of services and opportunities. The NAHPL Journal, a peer-reviewed, academic journal, reflects the latest perspectives and scholarship that support health and physical literacy in the areas of health, physical education, dance, and sport. Synergies, the online official newsletter of The Academy, provides members with timely information, thought-provoking ideas, interviews, and announcements. The NAHPL Website (nahpl.org), serves as the essential portal for member services, such as, board meeting minutes, resource material, position papers, meeting dates, summit registration, award nominations, and program proposals submissions.
The Academy frames activities around the personal health literacy and physical literacy definitions provided previously. For example, summit program proposals require a designation of health literacy or physical literacy and must include three objectives connecting the content of the presentation to the dimensions of health literacy or physical literacy. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) support health and physical literacy through user-created networks for PLCs and special interest groups. NAHPL members have opportunities to connect and share through the platform where they can send private messages as well as comment and view the activity streams related to physical or health literacy. Voices of The Academy webinars are scheduled on a regular basis to engage and educate members on a variety of topics such as advocacy; promotion of equity, diversity and inclusion; SEL; and more.
Among the strongest features of The Academy is the vast array of opportunities in which to participate, serve, lead, and engage with old friends and new colleagues. Leadership development and engagement are key components of NAHPL, evidenced by the over 450 member positions with boards, cabinets, committees, program councils, summit operations, mentorship, representative assemblies, advocacy initiatives, session presentations and selection and review panels. Leadership opportunities exist for persons in each of the membership categories: Professionals, Paraprofessionals, Future Professionals, and Retired Professionals. Leadership development within an organization is an effective way to nurture future leaders, engage emerging leaders, harness the expertise of seasoned leaders, and clarify organizational goals and vision. Advancing one’s individual leadership skills can improve career prospects, build confidence, expand teamwork potential, and broaden networking opportunities. The Academy is led by and for members, to serve the professions within the realms of health and physical literacy!
Health and physical literacy are essential for individuals of all ages in all settings from preschools and child care facilities to K-12 and post-secondary school buildings, from sports arenas and playing fields, to independent and assisted living centers. The end goal is all citizens making informed, healthy lifestyle choices across the lifespan.
Because health literacy and physical literacy involve all the domains of human development – cognitive, physical, affective, and behavioral – health and physical literacy are relevant to the collective disciplines included in the NAHPL. Everyone in health, physical education, dance, sport, exercise, and the associated professions has the responsibility to do their part to increase the health literacy and physical literacy of their clients/students/constituents. The Academy is for everyone. Join us in advancing health and physical literacy!
Cairney, J., Kiez, T., Roetert, P., Kriellaars, D. (2019). A 20th Century Narrative on the Origins of the Physical Literacy Construct. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education 38(2):1-18
International Physical Literacy Association. (n.d.). Choosing physical activity for life. (https://www.physical-literacy.org.uk/about/).
Issue Briefs to Inform Development and Implementation of Health People 2030 (November
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Lundvall, S. (2015). Physical literacy in the field of physical education–A challenge and a possibility. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 4, 113-118.
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Pleasant A. (2011). Health Literacy: An opportunity to improve individual, community, and global health. Adult Education for Health and Wellness.
Tremblay, M., & Lloyd, M. (2010). Physical literacy measurement: The missing piece. Physical & Health Education Journal, 76(5), 26-30.
Whitehead, M. (2001). The Concept of Physical Literacy. European Journal of Physical Education, 6 (2), 127-138.
Whitehead, M. E. (2007). Physical Literacy: Philosophical Considerations in Relation to Developing a Sense of Self, Universality and Propositional Knowledge. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 1(3), 281-298.
Whitehead, M. E. (Eds) (2010). Physical Literacy: Throughout the Lifecourse. London: Routledge.