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Measurement of Physical Activity in Preschool Children


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2010 - Volume 42 - Issue 3 - p 508-512
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181cea116

Purpose: To provide an overview of the methods that have been developed for measurement of physical activity in children of preschool age. Emphasis will be given to direct observation and accelerometry, but pedometry, HR monitoring, and proxy reports will be reviewed as well.

Method: Research articles detailing the measurement properties of direct observational systems, accelerometry, pedometry, HR monitoring, and proxy reporting specifically in children of preschool age were selected and reviewed.

Results: Systems for direct observation of physical activity and accelerometry are valid and reliable measures of physical activity in young children. Direct observation, which can provide information on type and context of physical activity, is an excellent complement to accelerometry, which provides detailed information on the intensity and duration of physical activity but no contextual information.

Conclusions: Direct observation systems and accelerometry have become well-established measurements of physical activity in young children as well as older groups. Pedometry and HR monitoring have been shown to be applicable, but these methods have been studied less extensively than direct observation and accelerometry. Proxy reports of physical activity are attractive because of low burden, but they have limited validity.

Department of Exercise Science, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC

Address for correspondence: Russell R. Pate, Ph.D., Department of Exercise Science, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, 921 Assembly St, Suite 212, Columbia, SC 29208; E-mail:

Submitted for publication December 2008.

Accepted for publication August 2009.

©2010The American College of Sports Medicine