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Front Nutr. 2014 Jun 16;1:5. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2014.00005. eCollection 2014.

Assessment of physical activity and energy expenditure: an overview of objective measures.

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Centre for Nutrition and Exercise, Mater Research Institute, University of Queensland , South Brisbane, QLD , Australia ; Griffith Health Institute, Griffith University , Gold Coast, QLD , Australia.
Nutritional and Health-Related Environmental Studies Section, International Atomic Energy Agency , Vienna , Austria.
Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Bond University , Gold Coast, QLD , Australia.


The ability to assess energy expenditure (EE) and estimate physical activity (PA) in free-living individuals is extremely important in the global context of non-communicable diseases including malnutrition, overnutrition (obesity), and diabetes. It is also important to appreciate that PA and EE are different constructs with PA defined as any bodily movement that results in EE and accordingly, energy is expended as a result of PA. However, total energy expenditure, best assessed using the criterion doubly labeled water (DLW) technique, includes components in addition to physical activity energy expenditure, namely resting energy expenditure and the thermic effect of food. Given the large number of assessment techniques currently used to estimate PA in humans, it is imperative to understand the relative merits of each. The goal of this review is to provide information on the utility and limitations of a range of objective measures of PA and their relationship with EE. The measures discussed include those based on EE or oxygen uptake including DLW, activity energy expenditure, physical activity level, and metabolic equivalent; those based on heart rate monitoring and motion sensors; and because of their widespread use, selected subjective measures.


accelerometry; human energy expenditure; objective measurement techniques; physical activity assessment; stable isotopes

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