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Open Access Research article

The use of individual cut points from treadmill walking to assess free-living moderate to vigorous physical activity in obese subjects by accelerometry: is it useful?

Eivind Aadland1* and Jostein Steene-Johannessen2

Author Affiliations

1 Sogn og Fjordane University College, Faculty of Health Studies, Box 523, Førde, 6803, Norway

2 Sogn og Fjordane University College, Faculty of Teacher Education and Sports, Box 133, Sogndal, 6851, Norway

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2012, 12:172  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-12-172

Published: 15 November 2012



Variation in counts between subjects at a given speed or work rate are the most important source of error in physical activity (PA) measurements with accelerometers. The aim of this study was to explore how the use of individual accelerometer cut points (ICPs) affected the analysis of PA field data.


We performed a treadmill calibration protocol to determine cut points for moderate to vigorous PA (MVPA) (≥3 metabolic equivalents) and assessed free-living PA in 44 severely obese subjects using the Actigraph GT1M accelerometer. We obtained cut points in 42 subjects (11 men, mean (standard deviation) of body mass index (BMI) 39.8 (5.7), age 43.2 (9.2) years), of whom 35 had valid measurement of free-living PA (minutes of MVPA/day). Linear regression was used to analyze associations with the ICPs and time in MVPA/day. MVPA/day was also compared with values derived using a group cut point (GCP).


Resting oxygen consumption (partial r = 0.74, p < .001), work economy (partial r = −0.76, p < .001) and BMI (partial r = 0.52, p = .001) explained 68.4% of the variation in the ICPs (F = 26.7, p < .001). The ICPs explained 79.1% of the variation in the minutes spent in MVPA/day. Moderate to vigorous PA/day derived from the ICPs vs. the GCP varied substantially (R2 = 14%, p = .023, coefficient of variation = 45.1%).


The results indicate that the use of ICPs had a strong influence on the PA level. Two thirds of the variation in the ICPs could be explained, however, a certain degree of measurement error will be present. Thus, we are not able to conclude with respect to the most appropriate procedure for analyzing time in MVPA.

Exercise; Accelerometer; Actigraph; Individual calibration