Accelerometers were incorporated in the 2003–2004 National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) study cycle for objective assessment of physical activity. This is the first time that objective physical activity data are available on a nationally representative sample of U.S. residents. The use of accelerometers allows researchers to measure total physical activity, including light intensity and unstructured activities, which may be a better predictor of health outcomes than structured activity alone. The aim of this study was to examine objectively determined physical activity levels by sex, age and racial/ethnic groups in a national sample of U.S. adults.
Data were obtained from the 2003–2004 NHANES, a cross-sectional study of a complex, multistage probability sample of the U.S. population. Physical activity was assessed with the Actigraph AM-7164 accelerometer for seven days following an examination. 2,688 U.S. adults with valid accelerometer data (i.e. at least four days with at least 10 hours of wear-time) were included in the analysis. Mean daily total physical activity counts, as well as counts accumulated in minutes of light, and moderate-vigorous intensity physical activity are presented by sex across age and racial/ethnic groups. Generalized linear modeling using the log link function was performed to compare physical activity in sex and racial/ethnic groups adjusting for age.
Physical activity decreases with age for both men and women across all racial/ethnic groups with men being more active than women, with the exception of Hispanic women. Hispanic women are more active at middle age (40–59 years) compared to younger or older age and not significantly less active than men in middle or older age groups (i.e. age 40–59 or age 60 and older). Hispanic men accumulate more total and light intensity physical activity counts than their white and black counterparts for all age groups.
Physical activity levels measured objectively by accelerometer demonstrated that Hispanic men are, in general, more active than their white and black counterparts. This appears to be in contrast to self-reported physical activity previously reported in the literature and identifies the need to use objective measures in situations where the contribution of light intensity and/or unstructured physical activity cannot be assumed homogenous across the populations of interest.