Key Concepts about Physical Activity Questionnaire Data Collection Methods

Physical Activity Questionnaire Data Collection

Beginning with the first survey in 1971, NHANES has collected self-report data on physical activity. However, the content and complexity of this assessment have changed over time. In 1999, with the advent of the Continuous NHANES, items previously used to assess physical activity were changed to measure physical activity occurring over the prior month as part of household tasks and travel to and from places, in addition to questions about leisure-time moderate- and vigorous-intensity activities. Frequency and duration of activity participation were reported. One question asked participants to qualitatively rate their usual daily activity. Questions about television and computer use were introduced to provide estimates of sedentary behaviors.


In 2007, NHANES switched to an adapted form of the Global Physical Activity Questionnaire (GPAQ) developed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The GPAQ collects information on work-related physical activity, physical activity as part of travel to and from places, and leisure-time moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Because of differences in question wording and approaches to prompting participant recall, data from the 1999-2006 NHANES physical activity questionnaire and the GPAQ are not directly comparable. Guidance for analyzing GPAQ data can be found at the WHO website.

Although the same physical activity questionnaire was used for the four NHANES cycles between 1999 and 2006, a number of changes to the administration occurred. Once you develop your research question, you should review these changes to evaluate whether or not they have the potential to affect your analyses. For additional information on physical activity questionnaire protocol modifications, visit the Additional Resources section of this tutorial.


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