Category: Obesity / Overweight
While it is recommended that adults achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week (Centers for Disease Control, 2015), most college students fail to meet that recommendation (Huang et al., 2003). With the advent of consumer grade physical activity monitoring devices, assessing exercise has become less expensive and thus researchers can begin to more easily understand how populations may vary in their exercise behaviors and their accuracy of exercise recall. Previously, exercise research required the assessment of exercise with retrospective recall self-report questionnaires, including the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ; Booth, M.l., 2000). Craig and colleagues (2003) reported that the IPAQ demonstrated fair to moderate validity when compared to accelerometers, but other studies suggest that individuals (especially men), may over-report physical activity on the IPAQ (Hansen et al., 2010).
For the present study, we sought to understand four major questions: 1.) Are college students achieving recommendations for physical activity? 2.) Do college students who are or are not athletes differ in their achievement of activity goals? 3.) How accurate are college students (athletes vs. non-athletes) at estimating their own physical activity?
We recruited a population of 77 college students (38 non-athletes and 39 athletes), and following informed consent, had them complete a series of questionnaires including the IPAQ. Students were then given a FitBit Flex device to wear for a 7-day period. The device was programmed to show the wearer no data about their step progress and students were told to go about their normal activities. The data assessing daily active minutes and steps walked were also pulled from their FitBit devices.
To assess whether the students were meeting physical activity recommendations, we examined the number of active minutes per day from the FitBit device. Students who achieved over 150 total active minutes across the 7-day period were identified as having met the recommendation (74.1% of the population). Athletes were significantly more likely to have met the recommendation than non-athletes were (χ2 =13.71, p < .001). To assess the accuracy of the student’s self-report of exercise using the IPAQ, paired samples t-tests were run comparing active minutes assessed via FitBit and via the IPAQ. Non-athletes had significant differences between these scores (t(36)=3.03, p=.004), overestimating their active minutes by almost 300 minutes per week. The athletes’ self-report and FitBit results were not significantly different.
Overall, this study highlights the need for objective assessments of physical activity and for targeted physical activity interventions. While athletes are unsurprisingly achieving physical activity goals, they are also more accurate in their self-assessment of exercise behavior. Thus, there should be even more concern about non-athlete populations as they are less likely to meet recommendations and more likely to over-estimate their own activity levels. Consumer grade accelerometers may offer an inexpensive way to improve student’s understanding of their own exercise activity and to help them achieve activity goals.