Objectively measured physical activity of USA adults by sex, age, and racial/ethnic groups: a cross-sectional study

Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2009 Jun 3;6:31. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-6-31.


Background: Accelerometers were incorporated in the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) study cycle for objective assessment of physical activity. This is the first time that objective physical activity data are available on a nationally representative sample of U.S. residents. The use of accelerometers allows researchers to measure total physical activity, including light intensity and unstructured activities, which may be a better predictor of health outcomes than structured activity alone. The aim of this study was to examine objectively determined physical activity levels by sex, age and racial/ethnic groups in a national sample of U.S. adults.

Methods: Data were obtained from the 2003-2004 NHANES, a cross-sectional study of a complex, multistage probability sample of the U.S. population. Physical activity was assessed with the Actigraph AM-7164 accelerometer for seven days following an examination. 2,688 U.S. adults with valid accelerometer data (i.e. at least four days with at least 10 hours of wear-time) were included in the analysis. Mean daily total physical activity counts, as well as counts accumulated in minutes of light, and moderate-vigorous intensity physical activity are presented by sex across age and racial/ethnic groups. Generalized linear modeling using the log link function was performed to compare physical activity in sex and racial/ethnic groups adjusting for age.

Results: Physical activity decreases with age for both men and women across all racial/ethnic groups with men being more active than women, with the exception of Hispanic women. Hispanic women are more active at middle age (40-59 years) compared to younger or older age and not significantly less active than men in middle or older age groups (i.e. age 40-59 or age 60 and older). Hispanic men accumulate more total and light intensity physical activity counts than their white and black counterparts for all age groups.

Conclusion: Physical activity levels measured objectively by accelerometer demonstrated that Hispanic men are, in general, more active than their white and black counterparts. This appears to be in contrast to self-reported physical activity previously reported in the literature and identifies the need to use objective measures in situations where the contribution of light intensity and/or unstructured physical activity cannot be assumed homogenous across the populations of interest.