PURPOSE: Awareness of being monitored can influence participants' habitual physical activity (PA) behavior. This reactivity effect may threaten the validity of PA assessment. Reports on reactivity when measuring the PA of children and adolescents have been inconsistent. The aim of this study was to investigate whether PA outcomes measured by accelerometer devices differ from measurement day to measurement day, and whether the day of the week and the day on which measurement started influence these differences.
METHODS: Accelerometer data (Counts per minute, cpm) of children and adolescents (n = 2081) pooled from eight studies in Switzerland with at least 10 hours of daily valid recording were investigated for effects of measurement day, day of the week, and start day using mixed linear regression.
RESULTS: The first measurement day was the most active day. Cpm were significantly higher than on the second to the sixth day, but not on the seventh day. Differences in the age-adjusted means between the first and consecutive days ranged from 23 to 45 cpm (3.6-7.1%). In pre-school children, the differences almost reached 10%. The start day significantly influenced PA outcome measures.
CONCLUSION: Reactivity to accelerometer measurement of PA is likely to be present to an extent of about 5% on the first day and may introduce a relevant bias to accelerometer-based studies. In pre-school children, the effects are larger than in elementary and secondary school children. As the day of the week and the start day significantly influence PA estimates, researchers should plan for at least one familiarization day in school-age children and randomly assign start days.