Investigating Children's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Using Ecological Momentary Assessment with Mobile Phones

This article examines whether an electronic Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) protocol that gathers data via mobile phone is a viable mechanism to track activity patterns of children. This technology, which surveys children via mobile phone about their physical activities, could be a valuable source of information on childhood activity and obesity.

The authors recruited 121 children to participate in a weekend trial of the mobile phone EMA. The children used the EMA to answer survey questions on their activity levels through the weekend. They simultaneously wore accelerometers to measure physical and sedentary activity.

Key Findings:

  • Children answered 80 percent of surveys that could be matched to data from the accelerometers. Activity levels did not affect the rate of survey response, indicating that children were equally likely to answer the survey during active and sedentary activities.
  • Objective data from the accelerometers matched subjective data entered by the children into the cell phones, indicating that the children accurately reported information on their activity levels.

This research indicates that an electronic assessment protocol utilizing mobile phones can accurately measure children’s activity and is therefore a potential tool to understanding children’s activity patterns.