What They Say and What They Do

Comparing Physical Activity Across the USA, England and the Netherlands

Published in: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health [Epub April 2018]. doi: 10.1136/jech-2017-209703

Posted on RAND.org on May 02, 2018

by Arie Kapteyn, James Banks, Mark Hamer, James P. Smith, Andrew Steptoe, Arthur Van Soest, Annemarie Koster, Saw Htay Wah

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Background

Physical activity (PA) is important for maintaining health, but there are fundamental unanswered questions on how best it should be measured.

Methods

We measured PA in the Netherlands (n=748), the USA (n=540) and England (n=254), both by a 7-day wrist-worn accelerometer and by self-reports. The self-reports included a global self-report on PA and a report on the frequency of vigorous, moderate and mild activity.

Results

The self-reported data showed only minor differences across countries and across groups within countries (such as different age groups or working vs non-working respondents). The accelerometer data, however, showed large differences; the Dutch and English appeared to be much more physically active than Americans h (For instance, among respondents aged 50 years or older 38% of Americans are in the lowest activity quintile of the Dutch distribution). In addition, accelerometer data showed a sharp decline of PA with age, while no such pattern was observed in self-reports. The differences between objective measures and self-reports occurred for both types of self-reports.

Conclusion

It is clear that self-reports and objective measures tell vastly different stories, suggesting that across countries people use different response scales when answering questions about how physically active they are.

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