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Sandra A. Ham, Caroline A. Macera, Deborah A. Jones, Barbara E. Ainsworth and Kathleen M. Turczyn

Purpose:

To explore among demographic groups the differences in prevalence estimates of physical activity that may occur as a result of differences in survey design characteristics, including question wording, placement, and examples of activities.

Methods:

We compared responses to similar physical activity instruments administered to large samples of adults in 1999 (n = 9,775), 2000 (n = 32,374), and 1999–2000 (n = 7,529). The questions assessed participation in non-occupational physical activity at vigorous and moderate intensities. Surveys used in-person or telephone interviews.

Results:

The prevalence of recommended levels of physical activity (i.e., ≥3 days and ≥20 min vigorous activities or ≥5 days and ≥30 min moderate activities) varied 10% across 3 surveys. Although survey design characteristics varied, higher prevalence was associated with the use of examples to measure multiple domains of activity and question order.

Conclusions:

Measuring multiple domains is important for assessing health-related physical activity. These results suggest that physical activity measurement varies with question and survey design characteristics.