Physical activity and sedentary behaviour assessment

The purpose of this website is to provide visitors with a simple user’s guide for selecting instruments to assess physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

The overall goal is to highlight the main decisions needed to be made based on a series of important issues such as the purpose of assessment; age of participants; number of participants or sample size; tolerance limits for respondent burden; resources available; and the type of information sought.

Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Assessment in Childhood

boy riding bike

Accurate assessment of physical activity and sedentary behaviour among young people is important for many reasons

  • detecting positive and negative health outcomes associated with these behaviours;
  • estimating population prevalence and trends;
  • identifying correlates;
  • detecting natural changes over time; and
  • evaluating the efficacy of interventions to alter physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

However, choosing the most appropriate instrument depends not only on the validity and reliability of the measure, but also on;

  • what the instrument is measuring,
  • how it manages to meet the intended purpose of the assessment,
  • what resources are needed and
  • the population group of interest.

A common question facing researchers, practitioners, teachers and policy makers wanting to assess physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children or adolescents is ‘what instrument should I use?’ However, the answer depends on a range of factors including the purpose of the assessment, target group, research question, resources available, time frame and the context.

We would like to start by introducing a series of case scenarios that have been prepared to illustrate how decisions might be made according to the needs of the user and the resources available.

A simple method selection guide has been constructed to help identify potential instruments to measure physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents.

Medical Research Council (MRC-UK) Toolkit

MRC logo

We would like to acknowledge the extensive work undertaken by the Population Health Sciences Research Network (PHSRN), the Medical Research Council (MRC) in the United Kingdom, using a similar approach, to facilitate researchers in selecting appropriate dietary intake and physical activity methodologies for populations.

The ACAORN project, established in 2008, aimed to:

  1. Support researchers in making decisions about appropriate physical activity methodology and
  2. Provide access to physical activity assessment tools for children and adolescents

This project was undertaken in the context of child obesity, research and practice.

During the project ACAORN became aware of the PHSRN project being undertaken by the MRC. ACAORN consulted with researchers based at the MRC and would particularly like to acknowledge Dr Janet Warren.

In the spirit of collaboration, and not wanting to re-invent the wheel, it was acknowledged that The Diet and Physical Activity Measurement Matrices and associated web pages in the MRC toolkit would be a valuable resource for Australian researchers.

This ACAORN site also provides an iterative tool which guides researchers into selecting appropriate methods to assess physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents. A practical considerations matrix has also been built with a specific focus in the context of obesity research in Australia.

To expand the level of information on the relevant ACAORN Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour web pages, please visit the MRC web pages here.