Conceptualizing, Defining, and Measuring Before-School Physical Activity: A Review With Exploratory Analysis of Adolescent Data

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James Woodforde School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, Australia

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Sjaan Gomersall School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, Australia
School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, Australia

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Anna Timperio Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Geelong, VIC, Australia

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Venurs Loh Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Geelong, VIC, Australia

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Hannah Browning School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, Australia

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Francisco Perales School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, Australia

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Jo Salmon Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Geelong, VIC, Australia

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Michalis Stylianou School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, Australia

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Physical activity (PA) among children and adolescents is often reported by time segments centered around the school day, including before school. However, there is no consistent approach to defining the before-school segment, to accurately capture PA levels and facilitate synthesis of results across studies. Therefore, this study aimed to (a) examine how studies with children and adolescents have defined the before-school segment, and (b) compare adolescents’ before-school PA using various segment definitions. We conducted a systematic search and review of literature from six databases, and subsequently analyzed accelerometer data from Australia (n = 472, mean age 14.9 years, 40% male), to compare PA across five before-school definitions. Our review found 69 studies reporting before-school PA, 59 of which used device-based measures. Definitions ranged widely, but justifications were rarely reported. Our empirical comparison of definitions resulted in a range of participants meeting wear time criteria (≥3 days at >50% of segment length) from the latest-starting definition (30 min prior to school; n = 443) to the earliest-starting definition (6:00 a.m.–school start; n = 155), implying that for many participants, accelerometer wear was low in the early hours due to sleep or noncompliance. Statistically significant differences in light and moderate-to-vigorous PA (mean minutes/school day, proportion of segment length, and proportion of wear time) were found between definitions, indicating that before-school PA could potentially be underestimated depending on definition choice. We recommend that future studies clearly report and justify segment definition, apply segment-specific wear time criteria, and collect wake time data to enable individualized segment start times and minimize risk of data misclassification.

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