Assessment of physical activity in epidemiologic research: problems and prospects

Public Health Rep. Mar-Apr 1985;100(2):131-46.


More than 30 different methods have been used to assess physical activity. These methods can be grouped into seven major categories: calorimetry, job classification, survey procedures, physiological markers, behavioral observation, mechanical and electronic monitors, and dietary measures. No single instrument fulfills the criteria of being valid, reliable, and practical while not affecting behavior. The instruments that are very precise tend to be impractical on a population basis. Surveys are the most practical approach in large-scale studies, although little is known about their reliability and validity. Studies employing objective monitoring through heart rate, movement sensors, and doubly labeled water procedures appear promising, but are still experimental and costly. Despite the difficulty of measurement, relatively strong association has been found between physical activity and health, suggesting that, with improvements in assessment techniques, even stronger associations should be seen.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior
  • Calorimetry
  • Data Collection / methods
  • Energy Intake
  • Epidemiology*
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / instrumentation
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Movement
  • Occupations
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Research Design*
  • Time Factors