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Validation of a previous day recall for measuring the location and purpose of active and sedentary behaviors compared to direct observation

Sarah Kozey Keadle12*, Kate Lyden3, Amanda Hickey4, Evan L Ray5, Jay H Fowke6, Patty S Freedson4 and Charles E Matthews1

Author Affiliations

1 Nutritional Epidemiology Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

2 Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program, Division of Cancer Prevention, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD, USA

3 Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes, University of Colorado Denver Aurora, Aurora, CO 80045, USA

4 Department of Kinesiology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA

5 Department of Math and Statistics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA

6 Division of Epidemiology, Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN 37232, USA

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2014, 11:12  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-11-12

Published: 3 February 2014



Gathering contextual information (i.e., location and purpose) about active and sedentary behaviors is an advantage of self-report tools such as previous day recalls (PDR). However, the validity of PDR’s for measuring context has not been empirically tested. The purpose of this paper was to compare PDR estimates of location and purpose to direct observation (DO).


Fifteen adult (18–75 y) and 15 adolescent (12–17 y) participants were directly observed during at least one segment of the day (i.e., morning, afternoon or evening). Participants completed their normal daily routine while trained observers recorded the location (i.e., home, community, work/school), purpose (e.g., leisure, transportation) and whether the behavior was sedentary or active. The day following the observation, participants completed an unannounced PDR. Estimates of time in each context were compared between PDR and DO. Intra-class correlations (ICC), percent agreement and Kappa statistics were calculated.


For adults, percent agreement was 85% or greater for each location and ICC values ranged from 0.71 to 0.96. The PDR-reported purpose of adults’ behaviors were highly correlated with DO for household activities and work (ICCs of 0.84 and 0.88, respectively). Transportation was not significantly correlated with DO (ICC = -0.08). For adolescents, reported classification of activity location was 80.8% or greater. The ICCs for purpose of adolescents’ behaviors ranged from 0.46 to 0.78. Participants were most accurate in classifying the location and purpose of the behaviors in which they spent the most time.


This study suggests that adults and adolescents can accurately report where and why they spend time in behaviors using a PDR. This information on behavioral context is essential for translating the evidence for specific behavior-disease associations to health interventions and public policy.

Exposure measurement; Physical activity; Behavioral epidemiology