Generally, correlation and agreement between self-reported and accelerometer-measured physical activity are low. The objective of this study is to compare estimates of physical activity from a newly developed Canadian questionnaire with measurements by accelerometer among 12- to 17-year-olds.

Data and methods

Physical activity was self-reported by domain (transportation, recreation, school, and occupational/household) as part of the new Physical Activity Youth Questionnaire (PAYQ) in the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS; 2014–2017; n = 975) and the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS; 2015-2016; n=7,619). The CHMS also collected moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) data using the Actical accelerometer. Descriptive statistics and correlation and agreement analyses were used to compare and contrast self-reported and accelerometer-measured physical activity variables. Linear regression was used to assess the association between physical activity and obesity.


The average daily MVPA measured by accelerometry was 49.7 minutes per day. According to the PAYQ, Canadian youth reported an average of 78.2 minutes of physical activity per day from all domains, including recreation (31.3 minutes per day), transportation (15.5 minutes per day), school (25.8 minutes per day), and occupational/household (5.6 minutes per day).

According to accelerometer-measured MVPA, 23.1% of youth met the physical activity guideline. The inclusion of all domains of self-reported physical activity resulted in a higher percentage of youth meeting the physical activity guideline (58.6%) than was the case for the recreation domain only (18.5%) or the sum of the recreation and school domains (34.0%). Overall, self-reported and accelerometer-measured physical activity estimates were poorly correlated (R < 0.2).


Population-level estimates of physical activity and the percentage of youth meeting the physical activity guideline were well-aligned between the Actical and the PAYQ; however, large differences were evident at the individual level. Therefore, caution should be exercised in using data from these two methods since their values may not be interchangeable.


Data collection, direct measure, health surveys, movement, exercise

DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.25318/82-003-x201900700001-eng


Physical activity is positively associated with a wide range of physical, psychological, social and cognitive health outcomes in children and youth. Self-report questionnaires are cost-efficient and provide important contextual information about physical activity, but are limited by recall bias and variation in reporting accuracy for different intensities and domains. Accelerometers overcome some of these limitations. However, they do not capture certain types of movement accurately (e.g., cycling, load bearing). Nor do they provide any contextual information about the type or domain of physical activity participation. This information is important for conducting surveillance as it identifies the types and domains of physical activity that are contributing the most and the least to overall physical activity levels. Capturing this contextual information may be particularly challenging in youth, given the more sporadic nature of how they accumulate physical activity throughout the day. [Full article]


Rachel C. Colley (rachel.colley@canada.ca) and Didier Garriguet are with the Health Analysis Division of Statistics Canada, in Ottawa, Ontario. Gregory Butler, Stephanie A. Prince and Karen C. Roberts are with the Centre for Surveillance and Applied Research at the Public Health Agency of Canada, in Ottawa, Ontario. Stephanie A. Prince is also with the Division of Cardiac Prevention and Rehabilitation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, in Ottawa, Ontario.

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What is already known on this subject?

  • Self-reported and accelerometer-measured physical activity levels generally exhibit low correlation and agreement.
  • Previous comparisons between self-reported and accelerometer-measured physical activity using Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) data have exhibited low correlation between methods and large differences in the number of minutes of physical activity accumulated per day, and in adherence to physical activity guidelines.
  • A new physical activity questionnaire module was adopted for the 2014–2015 CHMS and 2015-2016 CCHS. This new questionnaire asks youth to report physical activity accumulated by domain: transportation, recreation, school, and occupational/household.

What does this study add?

  • On average, Canadian youth reported more physical activity than they accumulated on the accelerometer.
  • The correlation between self-reported data from the new questionnaire module and accelerometer-measured physical activity was low. This finding is consistent with results observed for other questionnaire modules among this age group.
  • About one in four respondents reported physical activity levels very close to the accelerometer measurements. The remaining respondents were split evenly between reporting more and reporting less physical activity than was measured by the accelerometer.
  • Mode of delivery of the questionnaire (i.e., telephone versus in-person) appears to have an effect on physical activity estimates. On average, the estimates obtained over the phone were higher than those obtained in person.

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