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Objective - Accelerometer

222. Using accelerometers and GPS units to identify the proportion of daily physical activity

Research Article
Quigg, Robin et al
May 2010

Source: Preventive Medicine, 2010, 50: 235-240 

Commentary by Petra Harries, Heart Foundation   There are relationships between the built environment and levels of physical activity and obesity. Previous research has identified playgrounds as facilities that can increase physical activity levels in children.  The aim of this study was to investigate the location of physical activity in primary school aged children, and identify the proportion of physical activity occurring in public parks with playgrounds.

Data from the Children’s Activity in their Local Environment (CALE) study was used, comprising a cohort of children selected from two low socio-economic communities in Dunedin, New Zealand.  A total of 184 participants aged five to ten years were recruited from eight primary schools.  Global Positioning System (GPS) units and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) information, linked with accelerometers worn over seven days, were used to measure the levels and locations of physical activity.  The GPS units collected data at one minute intervals.  Height and body weight were also recorded, and additional information was collected through monitoring sheets, recording times when the accelerometer and GPS units were not worn or did not record physical activity (for example, when swimming or cycling).

Participants with accelerometer and GPS data for five or more hourly periods of physical activity, for at least 5 days were included in the results.  The study found only 1.9% of the total daily physical activity was located within a city park.  This was higher in obese children (2.7%).  Those aged 7-8 years were found to demonstrate proportionally more physical activity in parks compared to 5-6 year olds, and 9-10 year olds.  Although little physical activity was recorded in parks after 3pm on school days, there was an increase in physical activity in parks on weekends, particularly for those categorised as obese. 

These findings, using accelerometers and GPS units to investigate the location of children’s physical activity, demonstrates that as only a small percentage of children’s daily physical activity levels is carried out in parks with playgrounds, providing parks may not be enough to address physical inactivity in children.  However, due to the increased activity in parks on weekends, they remain a promising environment for physical activity promotion. These results highlight the need for further research into understanding the environmental influences of physical activity.  In addition, when designing built environment interventions, consideration should be given to maximising the use of areas to ensure return on investment. 

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