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What they say and what they do: comparing physical activity across U.S., England, and the Netherlands

journal contribution
posted on 15.01.2018, 11:25 authored by Arie Kapteyn, James Banks, Mark Hamer, James P. Smith, Andrew Steptoe, Arthur van Soest, Annemarie Koster, Saw Htay Wah
Background: Physical Activity (PA) is important for maintaining health, but there are fundamental unanswered questions on how best it should be measured. Methods: We measured PA in the Netherlands (n=748), United States (n=540), and England (n=254), both by a 7 day wrist worn accelerometer and by self-reports. The self-reports included a global self-report on PA; and a report on the frequency of vigorous, moderate, and mild activity. Results: The self-reported data showed only minor differences across countries and across groups within countries (such as different age groups or working versus non-working respondents). The accelerometer data, however, showed dramatic differences; the Dutch appeared to be much more physically active than Americans and English (For instance, among respondents 50 or older only 5% of Americans and 3% of English were active enough to make it into the highest activity quintile of the Dutch distribution). In addition, accelerometer data showed a sharp decline of PA with age, while no such pattern was observed in self-reports. The differences between objective measures and self-reports occurred for both types of self-reports. Conclusion: It is clear that self-reports and objective measures tell vastly different stories suggesting that across countries people use different response scales when answering questions about how physically active they are.


This research was funded by grants from the National Institute on Aging including R-37AG25529 to James Smith at Rand and R01AG20717 to Arie Kapteyn at USC. Funding for ELSA was provided by the National Institute of Aging (R01AG017644) and a consortium of UK government departments coordinated by the Economic and Social Research Council.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Published in

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health


KAPTEYN, A. ... et al., 2018. What they say and what they do: comparing physical activity across U.S., England, and the Netherlands. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 72 (6), pp.471-476.


© The Authors. Published by BMJ Publishing Group


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