Article Text

Download PDFPDF
What proportion of youth are physically active? Measurement issues, levels and recent time trends
  1. Ulf Ekelund1,2,
  2. Grant Tomkinson3,
  3. Neil Armstrong4
  1. 1MRC Epidemiology Unit, Institute of Metabolic Science, Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2School of Health and Medical Sciences, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden
  3. 3Health and Use of Time Group, School of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  4. 4Children's Health and Exercise Research Centre, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Ulf Ekelund, MRC Epidemiology Unit, Institute of Metabolic Science, Addenbrookes Hospital, Box 285, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, UK; ulf.ekelund{at}


Aim The aim of this review is to summarise issues surrounding the measurement of physical activity (PA) by self-report and accelerometry in youth (2–18 years old). Current levels and temporal trends in PA and sport participation and the effect of assessment method on data interpretation will be summarised.

Methods Relevant papers were extracted from a computerised literature search of MEDLINE and personal databases. Additional papers were extracted from reference lists of recently published reviews.

Results The criterion validity (direct comparison with an objective method) of self-reported instruments is low to moderate, with correlation coefficients generally between 0.3 and 0.4. Self-report instruments overestimate the intensity and duration of PA and sport participation. The interpretation of PA data from accelerometry is a challenge, and specific issues include the definition of intensity thresholds and the influence of age on intensity thresholds.

Recent data on self-reported PA in youth suggest that between 30% and 40% are sufficiently active. Prevalence values for sufficiently active youth measured by accelerometry range between 1% and 100%, depending on the intensity thresholds used. Sport participation is likely to contribute to higher levels of PA. The available evidence does not support the notion that PA levels and sport participation in youth have declined in recent decades.

Conclusion The number of youth meeting current PA guidelines varies by assessment method and the intensity thresholds used when PA is measured by accelerometry. The available evidence does not firmly support the notion that PA in young people has declined during the last decades. It is unlikely that any self-report method is sufficiently accurate for examining cross-cultural differences and temporal trends in young people's PA and sport participation over time. Surveillance systems therefore need to strive for an international standardisation using objective measurements of PA to complement existing self-report instruments.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.