Open Access Open Badges Research article

Cognitive testing of physical activity and acculturation questions in recent and long-term Latino immigrants

David Berrigan1*, Barbara H Forsyth2, Cynthia Helba3, Kerry Levin3, Alicia Norberg3 and Gordon B Willis1

Author Affiliations

1 Applied Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute, Executive Plaza North MSC 7344, Bethesda MD 20892-7344, USA

2 Center for Advanced Study of Language, University of Maryland, Box 25, College Park, MD 20742-0025, USA

3 Westat, 1650 Research Boulevard, Rockville, MD 20850, USA

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:481  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-481

Published: 13 August 2010



We ascertained the degree to which language (English versus Spanish), and residence time in the US influence responses to survey questions concerning two topics: self-reported acculturation status, and recent physical activity (PA). This topic is likely to be of general interest because of growing numbers of immigrants in countries worldwide.


We carried out qualitative (cognitive) interviews of survey items on acculturation and physical activity on 27 Latino subjects from three groups: (a) In Spanish, of those of low residence time (less than five years living in the U.S.) (n = 9); (b) In Spanish, of those of high residence time (15 or more years in the U.S) (n = 9); and (c) in English, of those of high residence time (n = 9).


There were very few language translation problems; general question design defects and socio-cultural challenges to survey responses were more common. Problems were found for both acculturation and PA questions, with distinct problem types for the two question areas. Residence time/language group was weakly associated with overall frequency of problems observed: low residence time/Spanish (86%), high residence time/Spanish (67%), and English speaking groups (62%).


Standardized survey questions related to acculturation and physical activity present somewhat different cognitive challenges. For PA related questions, problems with such questions were similar regardless of subject residence time or language preference. For acculturation related questions, residence time/language or education level influenced responses to such questions. These observations should help in the interpretation of survey results for culturally diverse populations.