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A comparison of direct versus self-report measures for assessing physical activity in adults: a systematic review

Stéphanie A Prince1*, Kristi B Adamo23, Meghan E Hamel4, Jill Hardt5, Sarah Connor Gorber15 and Mark Tremblay26

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Population Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

2 Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Canada

3 Faculty of Health Science, School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa, Canada

4 Division of Cancer Care and Epidemiology, Cancer Research Institute, Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

5 Health Information and Research Division, Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

6 Physical Health Measures Division, Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2008, 5:56  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-5-56

Published: 6 November 2008



Accurate assessment is required to assess current and changing physical activity levels, and to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions designed to increase activity levels. This study systematically reviewed the literature to determine the extent of agreement between subjectively (self-report e.g. questionnaire, diary) and objectively (directly measured; e.g. accelerometry, doubly labeled water) assessed physical activity in adults.


Eight electronic databases were searched to identify observational and experimental studies of adult populations. Searching identified 4,463 potential articles. Initial screening found that 293 examined the relationship between self-reported and directly measured physical activity and met the eligibility criteria. Data abstraction was completed for 187 articles, which described comparable data and/or comparisons, while 76 articles lacked comparable data or comparisons, and a further 30 did not meet the review's eligibility requirements. A risk of bias assessment was conducted for all articles from which data was abstracted.


Correlations between self-report and direct measures were generally low-to-moderate and ranged from -0.71 to 0.96. No clear pattern emerged for the mean differences between self-report and direct measures of physical activity. Trends differed by measure of physical activity employed, level of physical activity measured, and the gender of participants. Results of the risk of bias assessment indicated that 38% of the studies had lower quality scores.


The findings suggest that the measurement method may have a significant impact on the observed levels of physical activity. Self-report measures of physical activity were both higher and lower than directly measured levels of physical activity, which poses a problem for both reliance on self-report measures and for attempts to correct for self-report – direct measure differences. This review reveals the need for valid, accurate and reliable measures of physical activity in evaluating current and changing physical activity levels, physical activity interventions, and the relationships between physical activity and health outcomes.