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What physical activity surveillance needs: validity of a single-item questionnaire
  1. Miriam Wanner1,
  2. Nicole Probst-Hensch2,3,
  3. Susi Kriemler1,2,3,
  4. Flurina Meier2,3,
  5. Adrian Bauman4,
  6. Brian W Martin1
  1. 1Physical Activity and Health Working Unit, Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  2. 2Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland
  3. 3University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
  4. 4Prevention Research Collaboration, School of Public Health, Sydney University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Miriam Wanner, Physical Activity and Health Working Unit, Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Zurich, Seilergraben 49, Zurich CH-8001, Switzerland; miriam.wanner{at}


Background Self-report instruments to assess physical activity are still the most feasible option in many population-wide surveys, and often need to be very short owing to resource constraints. The aim of this study was to test the criterion validity of a single-item physical activity measure using accelerometers and to compare its measurement properties by gender, age group (including older adults) and language region.

Methods A validation study was carried out within the second follow-up of a large Swiss cohort study (Swiss Cohort Study on Air Pollution and Lung and Heart Disease in Adults, SAPALDIA, n=208) and included an additional convenient sample (n=110). Participants wore an accelerometer over eight consecutive days and then completed the single-item measure. Spearman's rank-order correlations were used to assess the criterion validity.

Results Physical activity levels were higher in men, younger individuals and those from the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Correlation coefficients for the number of days with at least 30 min of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity according to the single item and different accelerometer activity outcomes ranged from 0.40 to 0.54. Correlations were higher for women, younger individuals and participants from the French-speaking and the Italian-speaking parts.

Conclusions The single-item physical activity measure performed at least as well as other physical activity questionnaires. The differences in criterion validity between sub groups indicate that factors such as gender and age should be taken into account when developing physical activity questionnaires and in future validation studies.

  • Physical activity measurement
  • Gender issues
  • Physical activity and exercise methodology
  • Aging

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