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J Med Internet Res. 2011 Sep 25;13(3):e70. doi: 10.2196/jmir.1686.

Estimation of physical activity levels using cell phone questionnaires: a comparison with accelerometry for evaluation of between-subject and within-subject variations.

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  • 1Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Physical activity promotes health and longevity. Further elaboration of the role of physical activity for human health in epidemiological studies on large samples requires accurate methods that are easy to use, cheap, and possible to repeat. The use of telecommunication technologies such as cell phones is highly interesting in this respect. In an earlier report, we showed that physical activity level (PAL) assessed using a cell phone procedure agreed well with corresponding estimates obtained using the doubly labeled water method. However, our earlier study indicated high within-subject variation in relation to between-subject variations in PAL using cell phones, but we could not assess if this was a true variation of PAL or an artifact of the cell phone technique.

OBJECTIVE:

Our objective was to compare within- and between-subject variations in PAL by means of cell phones with corresponding estimates using an accelerometer. In addition, we compared the agreement of daily PAL values obtained using the cell phone questionnaire with corresponding data obtained using an accelerometer.

METHODS:

PAL was measured both with the cell phone questionnaire and with a triaxial accelerometer daily during a 2-week study period in 21 healthy Swedish women (20 to 45 years of age and BMI from 17.7 kg/m² to 33.6 kg/m²). The results were evaluated by fitting linear mixed effect models and descriptive statistics and graphs.

RESULTS:

With the accelerometer, 57% (95% confidence interval [CI] 40%-66%) of the variation was within subjects, while with the cell phone, within-subject variation was 76% (95% CI 59%-83%). The day-to-day variations in PAL observed using the cell phone questions agreed well with the corresponding accelerometer results.

CONCLUSIONS:

Both the cell phone questionnaire and the accelerometer showed high within-subject variations. Furthermore, day-to-day variations in PAL within subjects assessed using the cell phone agreed well with corresponding accelerometer values. Consequently, our cell phone questionnaire is a promising tool for assessing levels of physical activity. The tool may be useful for large-scale prospective studies.

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