We know that there is a health crisis looming in Canada for our current generations of children and youth. Physical inactivity and other lifestyle factors have created a situation where our children may be the first generation in decades to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. In the face of this grim fact, developing physical literacy has emerged as a key tactic to promoting physical activity among children and youth, and thereafter through their adult lifespan.
But there’s still another practical bottom line to physical literacy when it comes to health and wellness: injury reduction and prevention.
In Canada, we know that injuries sustained in sport and physical activity produce both short-term and long-term personal, social and economic costs. Consider these facts:
- A 2009 report found that being struck by sports equipment cost the Canadian health care system approximately $188 million in direct and indirect costs.[i] It accounted for 1,223 hospitalizations, 66,037 hospital visits, 607 permanent partial disabilities and 48 total permanent disabilities.[ii]
- Sport and physical activity account for 30% of hospital admissions for children 5-9 and 68% of children 10-14 years of age.[iii]
And these numbers only offer a small snapshot of the total cost to individuals and health institutions. The reports exclusively identify hospital reported injuries and do not account for all sport and physical activity-related injuries, many of which go unreported.
As leaders in sport, education and physical activity for children and youth, we have a responsibility to reduce injury risk, to provide safe environments, and to develop competent, resilient youth participants.
We can achieve these goals by following the Three E’s model of injury risk reduction. These include Education (such as physical literacy), Engineering (of physical environments, equipment and programming), and Enforcement of safe practices (such as following the rules and safety regulations).
In line with this model, physical literacy falls into the realm of Education.
Physical literacy helps to reduce injuries because it improves body mechanics and increases awareness of the activity environment. For example, children may learn to run by playing outside with their friends, but there is no guarantee that they will learn how to run correctly without proper physical literacy training. They may run inefficiently, or in a manner that otherwise increases their risk for knee or ankle injury. The same could be said for many other fundamental movements such as jumping and throwing.
As well, children and youth with poor physical literacy are likely to be less aware of their environment during activity. This means they are more likely to be struck by sports equipment or otherwise stray into potentially dangerous situations.
All of us have an important role to play in reducing risk of injury to children and youth during activity, and physical literacy is an essential pillar. Learn more about resources and tools for developing physical literacy and reducing injury by visiting the Canadian Sport for Life physical literacy website www.physicalliteracy.ca/PL-IP
About the Project:
The Play Safe Initiative (PSI) is working with a number of partners, led by Canadian Sport for Life (CS4L), on a Public Health Agency of Canada grant to promote injury prevention through physical literacy. PSI contributed to this project by developing communication strategies, messages, providing injury prevention expertise and by sharing information about physical literacy and the effect on injuries.
[i] SMARTRISK. (2009). The Economic Burden of Injury in Canada. SMARTRISK: Toronto, ON.
[iii] Public Health Agency of Canada (2011). Factsheet: Investing in child and youth injury prevention in sports and recreation. Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/media/nr-rp/2011/2011_0316a-eng.php on Thursday April 12.