Methods of measurement in epidemiology: Sedentary behaviour

Andrew J Atkin, Trish Gorely, Stacy A Clemes, Thomas Yates, Charlotte Edwardson, Soren Brage, Jo Salmon, Simon J Marshall, Stuart J H Biddle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

384 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Research examining sedentary behaviour as a potentially independent risk factor for chronic disease morbidity and mortality has expanded rapidly in recent years. 

Methods: We present a narrative overview of the sedentary behaviour measurement literature. Subjective and objective methods of measuring sedentary behaviour suitable for use in population-based research with children and adults are examined. The validity and reliability of each method is considered, gaps in the literature specific to each method identified and potential future directions discussed. 

Results: To date, subjective approaches to sedentary behaviour measurement, e.g. questionnaires, have focused predominantly on TV viewing or other screen-based behaviours. Typically, such measures demonstrate moderate reliability but slight to moderate validity. Accelerometry is increasingly being used for sedentary behaviour assessments; this approach overcomes some of the limitations of subjective methods, but detection of specific postures and postural changes by this method is somewhat limited. Instruments developed specifically for the assessment of body posture have demonstrated good reliability and validity in the limited research conducted to date. Miniaturization of monitoring devices, interoperability between measurement and communication technologies and advanced analytical approaches are potential avenues for future developments in this field. 

Conclusions: High-quality measurement is essential in all elements of sedentary behaviour epidemiology, from determining associations with health outcomes to the development and evaluation of behaviour change interventions. Sedentary behaviour measurement remains relatively under-developed, although new instruments, both objective and subjective, show considerable promise and warrant further testing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1460-1471
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 4 Oct 2012


  • Sedentary behaviour
  • epidemiology
  • validity
  • reliability

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