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Using accelerometers and global positioning system devices to assess gender and age differences in children’s school, transport, leisure and home based physical activity

Charlotte D Klinker1*, Jasper Schipperijn1, Hayley Christian2, Jacqueline Kerr3, Annette K Ersbøll4 and Jens Troelsen1

  • * Corresponding author: Charlotte D Klinker

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Campusvej 55, 5230 Odense M, Denmark

2 Centre for the Built Environment and Health, School of Population Health, and Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia

3 Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA

4 National Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, Øster Farimagsgade 5A, 1353 Copenhagen K, Denmark

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2014, 11:8  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-11-8

Published: 24 January 2014



Knowledge on domain-specific physical activity (PA) has the potential to advance public health interventions and inform new policies promoting children’s PA. The purpose of this study is to identify and assess domains (leisure, school, transport, home) and subdomains (e.g., recess, playgrounds, and urban green space) for week day moderate to vigorous PA (MVPA) using objective measures and investigate gender and age differences.


Participants included 367 Danish children and adolescents (11–16 years, 52% girls) with combined accelerometer and Global Positioning System (GPS) data (mean 2.5 days, 12.7 hrs/day). The Personal Activity and Location Measurement System and a purpose-built database assessed data in 15-second epochs to determine PA and assign epochs to 4 domains and 11 subdomains. Frequencies and proportions of time spent in MVPA were determined and differences assessed using multi-level modeling.


More than 90% of MVPA was objectively assigned to domains/subdomains. Boys accumulated more MVPA overall, in leisure, school and transport (all p < 0.05). Children compared with adolescents accumulated more MVPA, primarily through more school MVPA (p < 0.05). Boys spent a large proportion of time accumulating MVPA in playgrounds, active transport, Physical Education, sports facilities, urban green space and school grounds. Girls spent a significant proportion of time accumulating MVPA in active transport and playgrounds. No gender or age differences were found in the home domain.


Large variations were found in PA frequency and intensity across domains/subdomains. Significant gender differences were found, with girls being less active in almost all domains and subdomains. Objectively measured patterns of PA across domains/subdomains can be used to better tailor PA interventions and inform future policies for promoting child PA.

Children; Adolescent; Physical activity; Accelerometer; Global positioning system (GPS); Spatial behaviour; Context-specific; Physical activity patterns