Assessment of 24-hour physical behaviour in adults via wearables: a systematic review of validation studies under laboratory conditions

Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2023 Jun 8;20(1):68. doi: 10.1186/s12966-023-01473-7.


Background: Wearable technology is used by consumers and researchers worldwide for continuous activity monitoring in daily life. Results of high-quality laboratory-based validation studies enable us to make a guided decision on which study to rely on and which device to use. However, reviews in adults that focus on the quality of existing laboratory studies are missing.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review of wearable validation studies with adults. Eligibility criteria were: (i) study under laboratory conditions with humans (age ≥ 18 years); (ii) validated device outcome must belong to one dimension of the 24-hour physical behavior construct (i.e., intensity, posture/activity type, and biological state); (iii) study protocol must include a criterion measure; (iv) study had to be published in a peer-reviewed English language journal. Studies were identified via a systematic search in five electronic databases as well as back- and forward citation searches. The risk of bias was assessed based on the QUADAS-2 tool with eight signaling questions.

Results: Out of 13,285 unique search results, 545 published articles between 1994 and 2022 were included. Most studies (73.8% (N = 420)) validated an intensity measure outcome such as energy expenditure; only 14% (N = 80) and 12.2% (N = 70) of studies validated biological state or posture/activity type outcomes, respectively. Most protocols validated wearables in healthy adults between 18 and 65 years. Most wearables were only validated once. Further, we identified six wearables (i.e., ActiGraph GT3X+, ActiGraph GT9X, Apple Watch 2, Axivity AX3, Fitbit Charge 2, Fitbit, and GENEActiv) that had been used to validate outcomes from all three dimensions, but none of them were consistently ranked with moderate to high validity. Risk of bias assessment resulted in 4.4% (N = 24) of all studies being classified as "low risk", while 16.5% (N = 90) were classified as "some concerns" and 79.1% (N = 431) as "high risk".

Conclusion: Laboratory validation studies of wearables assessing physical behaviour in adults are characterized by low methodological quality, large variability in design, and a focus on intensity. Future research should more strongly aim at all components of the 24-hour physical behaviour construct, and strive for standardized protocols embedded in a validation framework.

Keywords: Adults; Physical activity; Sedentary behavior; Sleep; Validation; Wearables.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Fitness Trackers
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Physiologic
  • Posture
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Wearable Electronic Devices*