Selecting the appropriate physical activity assessment tool

When selecting the appropriate physical activity assessment tool, several methodological issues should be considered, such as study and population characteristics (Figure 1). These characteristics include budget, geographic location, budget, sample size, and study outcome. Population characteristics include age, gender, health status, level of cognition, race/ethnicity/culture, and socioeconomic status.

figure 1

Study Characteristics:
The assessment tool selected should be specific to the proposed study objectives and should adequately measure the type of activity that is most related to the outcome of interest. In addition, the type of study design and the number of associated assessment time-points will aide in the decision-making process. Other considerations are study budget, cohort size, and available staffing. Lastly, geographic location, including climate/weather, should be considered especially if seasonality (changes in temperature, precipitation, and number of daylight hours) may be relevant to the study outcomes.

Population Characteristics:
The characteristics inherent to the study population will help to assist you in the selection process. Most importantly, the measurement tool should have the ability to accurately assess physical activities that are specific to the population of interest. Demographic factors such as age, gender, race/ethnicity/culture, and socioeconomic status are all important considerations for selecting an appropriate assessment tool. In addition, physical and /or cognitive status should be taken into account as they may alter the decision process. Finally, consideration should be given to native language and level of educational attainment. In certain situations, questionnaires or assessment tool instructions should not only be translated into the native language of a study population, but also pilot-tested in representative sample.

Below are some additional questions that may aid in the selection of an appropriate assessment tool:

1. What are the objectives of the research question?

2. What are the physical activity or physical function outcome measures that are central to the aims and outcome measures of the study?

3. What specific kinds of information are being sought e.g. ranking broad categories of physical activity or functional status?

4. What resources are available both in terms of finance and manpower?

5. Are there special subject characteristics to be considered e.g. cognition or memory in the case of the elderly, literacy?

6. What type of analysis is planned for the data?

7. What resources and experience are available for the analysis of the data?