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Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 May;79(5):851-6.

Body movement and physical activity energy expenditure in children and adolescents: how to adjust for differences in body size and age.

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  • 1MRC Epidemiology Unit, Strangeways Research Laboratory, Worts Causeway, Cambridge CB1 8RN, United Kingdom.



Physical activity data in children and adolescents who differ in body size and age are influenced by whether physical activity is expressed in terms of body movement or energy expenditure.


We examined whether physical activity expressed as body movement (ie, accelerometer counts) differs from physical activity energy expenditure (PAEE) as a function of body size and age.


This was a cross-sectional study in children [n = 26; (+/-SD) age: 9.6 +/- 0.3 y] and adolescents (n = 25; age: 17.6 +/- 1.5 y) in which body movement and total energy expenditure (TEE) were simultaneously measured with the use of accelerometry and the doubly labeled water method, respectively. PAEE was expressed as 1) unadjusted PAEE [TEE minus resting energy expenditure (REE); in MJ/d], 2) PAEE adjusted for body weight (BW) (PAEE. kg(-1). d(-1)), 3) PAEE adjusted for fat-free mass (FFM) (PAEE. kg FFM(-1). d(-1)), and 4) the physical activity level (PAL = TEE/REE).


Body movement was significantly higher (P = 0.03) in children than in adolescents. Similarly, when PAEE was normalized for differences in BW or FFM, it was significantly higher in children than in adolescents (P = 0.03). In contrast, unadjusted PAEE and PAL were significantly higher in adolescents (P < 0.01).


PAEE should be normalized for BW or FFM for comparison of physical activity between children and adolescents who differ in body size and age. Adjusting PAEE for FFM removes the confounding effect of sex, and therefore FFM may be the most appropriate body-composition variable for normalization of PAEE. Unadjusted PAEE and PAL depend on body size.

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