Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Self-Report Measures of Children's Physical Activity

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Self-Report Measures of Children's Physical Activity

Article excerpt

Self-reports are probably the most commonly used type of measure of children's physical activity due to their convenience of administration, low cost, and ability to collect a variety of physical activity variables over time. It is reasonable to ask subjects to report their own physical activity because they have experienced it and many physical activities are salient events that even children are likely to remember to some extent. The relatively low cost and feasibility of testing large numbers of children has led epidemiologic and health promotion investigators to rely heavily on physical activity self-reports.

Physical activity self-reports have been used for numerous purposes. Researchers interested in describing patterns of children's physical activity, relating children's physical activity to physiological variables, and evaluating physical activity promotion programs found self-reports a convenient assessment approach. Because physical activity self-reports are used for many purposes, investigators developed measures that suited individual study objectives. Thus, measurement development has been a secondary research endeavor, and few investigators have pursued a systematic line of inquiry in this area. The proliferation of children's physical activity self-report measures reflects the diversity of research interests that stimulated their development. Measures vary in the specificity with which mode, duration, intensity, and frequency are assessed; they vary in the period of time covered by the report; and they vary in whether data are reported as ratings, activity scores with arbitrary units, time, calories expended, or other summary scores. Each researcher must consider what types of data are needed to answer the study questions, and a physical activity measure will be selected or developed based on these needs.

Though frequently used, data from physical activity self-reports are viewed with suspicion. Actual observable behavior is not directly assessed by self-reports. The data obtained are memories of the behavior of interest that have decayed, been filtered through perceptions and biases, and been tainted by competing memories, social desirability, and misunderstanding of instructions. Baranowski [1] discussed the considerable demands on the child's cognitive abilities to recall specific events from the past. Recall of physical activity is a complex process and few studies have been conducted to described the capacity of children at different ages to provide accurate self-reports. It should not be assumed that children are able to respond appropriately to any and all physical activity self-report instruments. Rather, validity and reliability of the instrument should be evaluated in a group of children similar to the target population. Physical activity self-reports should be developed and evaluated as rigorously as any psychological or behavioral assessment instrument.

This paper reviews studies of validity and reliability of children's physical activity self-reports as well as measures based on others' reports of the child's activity. The age range of children in these studies was approximately 3-18 years. The most promising measures and types of measures are identified as well as the most critical research needs in this area.


Studies reporting validity and reliability of physical activity self-reports in children and adolescents were reviewed. While computer searches were used, most studies were located through manual searches and correspondence with investigators. A few relevant unpublished studies were included. Numerous studies that used children's physical activity self-reports but did not report validity or reliability data were not reviewed. Some measures appeared to be carefully constructed, and investigators are encouraged to study the psychometric properties of the instruments. In one case, psychometric characteristics of the measure used in a large study was described in a non-English language journal, [2] so the measure was not reviewed. …

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