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Evolution of accelerometer methods for physical activity research
  1. Richard P Troiano1,
  2. James J McClain1,
  3. Robert J Brychta2,
  4. Kong Y Chen2
  1. 1Risk Factor Monitoring and Methods Branch, Applied Research Program, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  2. 2Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Obesity Branch, Intramural Research Program, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Richard P Troiano, Risk Factor Monitoring and Methods Branch, Applied Research Program, National Cancer Institute, NCI Shady Grove, 9609 Medical Center Dr, MSC 9762, Bethesda, MD 20892-9762, USA; troianor{at}


The technology and application of current accelerometer-based devices in physical activity (PA) research allow the capture and storage or transmission of large volumes of raw acceleration signal data. These rich data not only provide opportunities to improve PA characterisation, but also bring logistical and analytic challenges. We discuss how researchers and developers from multiple disciplines are responding to the analytic challenges and how advances in data storage, transmission and big data computing will minimise logistical challenges. These new approaches also bring the need for several paradigm shifts for PA researchers, including a shift from count-based approaches and regression calibrations for PA energy expenditure (PAEE) estimation to activity characterisation and EE estimation based on features extracted from raw acceleration signals. Furthermore, a collaborative approach towards analytic methods is proposed to facilitate PA research, which requires a shift away from multiple independent calibration studies. Finally, we make the case for a distinction between PA represented by accelerometer-based devices and PA assessed by self-report.

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