Physical activity

Scale: Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS)—Physical activity item

What it measures:

  • This question assesses the frequency of a youth’s participation in vigorous physical activity.

Intended age range: 12- to 18-year-olds (grades 7—12); however, somewhat younger youth also may be able to provide reliable responses.

Brief description: This measure consists of the following question: During the past 7 days, on how many days were you physically active for a total of at least 60 minutes per day? (Add up all the time you spent in any kind of physical activity that increased your heart rate and made you breathe hard some of the time.) Response choices are 0 days; 1 day; 2 days; 3 days; 4 days; 5 days; 6 days; 7 days.

Rationale: This one-item measure provides a simplified, easy-to-administer tool for assessing physical activity among children and adolescents in grades 7 to 12. It also has a relatively short recall period, which is ideal for use among youth. A number of variations of this measure have been used to assess physical activity in children and adolescents, and comparison of reporting accuracy between self-reports and more objective measures (e.g., heart rate monitors, pedometers) have found moderate to high reliability. There are also normative data available for responses to the question derived from a large nationally-representative sample of 7th to 12th graders. To date, however, there have not been any studies that have used this item or the longer (5-item) physical activity subscale to assess mentoring program impacts.

Cautions: Studies examining self-report measures of physical activity among children younger than 10 years old have found them to be less reliable and less accurate than more objective measures such as pedometry. Thus, the YRBS item recommended here may not be suitable for children younger than 10 years. It is also possible that responses on this item may capture physical activity that is a part of school-based physical education (PE), which is not likely to be affected by participation in a mentoring program. One approach that programs may wish to use in addressing this concern is to collect information on PE participation and then control statistically for PE participation when evaluating program effects on physical activity as assessed by the YRBS item. An additional question from the YRBS can be used for this purpose (“In an average week when you are in school, on how many days do you go to physical education (PE) classes?”).

Special administration information: None.

How to score: Responses on this measure can be categorized into physical activity levels. For example, those reporting vigorous physical activity on 3 or more days may be categorized as "physically active," those reporting vigorous activity on 1-2 days may be categorized as "moderately active," and those reporting vigorous activity on 0 days may be categorized as "inactive."

How to interpret findings: Higher scores reflect greater frequency of engaging in vigorous physical activity.

Access and permissions: The measure is available for non-commercial use free of charge from the YRBS website and is also provided here.

Alternatives: The longer (5-item) physical activity subscale of the YRBS as well as the Daily Activities subscale of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (11 items) can also be used by programs that are interested in measuring different types of physical activity (e.g., frequency of participation in team sports) and sedentary behaviors (e.g. time spent watching television). Additionally, more objective measures such as accelerometers and pedometers can also be used to measure physical activity in children and adolescents. A good review of these methods is available here.


Citation: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Methodology of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System — 2013. MMWR, 62 (RR01), 1–23. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmWR/preview/mmwrhtml/rr6201a1.htm

More in this category: « Healthy eating Civic engagement »

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