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Open Access Research article

A qualitative study of older adults' responses to sitting-time questions: do we get the information we want?

Jannique GZ van Uffelen1, Kristiann C Heesch2*, Robert L Hill1 and Wendy J Brown1

Author Affiliations

1 The University of Queensland, School of Human Movement Studies, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia

2 Queensland University of Technology, Institute of Health & Biomedical, Innovation and the School of Public Health, Brisbane, Queensland 4059, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:458  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-458

Published: 10 June 2011

Abstract

Background

In the last decade, there has been increasing interest in the health effects of sedentary behavior, which is often assessed using self-report sitting-time questions. The aim of this qualitative study was to document older adults' understanding of sitting-time questions from the International Physical Activity (PA) Questionnaire (IPAQ) and the PA Scale for the Elderly (PASE).

Methods

Australian community-dwelling adults aged 65+ years answered the IPAQ and PASE sitting questions in face-to-face semi-structured interviews. IPAQ uses one open-ended question to assess sitting on a weekday in the last 7 days 'at work, at home, while doing coursework and during leisure time'; PASE uses a three-part closed question about daily leisure-time sitting in the last 7 days. Participants expressed their thoughts out loud while answering each question. They were then probed about their responses. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and coded into themes.

Results

Mean age of the 28 male and 27 female participants was 73 years (range 65-89). The most frequently reported activity was watching TV. For both questionnaires, many participants had difficulties understanding what activities to report. Some had difficulty understanding what activities should be classified as 'leisure-time sitting'. Some assumed they were being asked to only report activities provided as examples. Most reported activities they normally do, rather than those performed on a day in the previous week. Participants used a variety of strategies to select 'a day' for which they reported their sitting activities and to calculate sitting time on that day. Therefore, many different ways of estimating sitting time were used. Participants had particular difficulty reporting their daily sitting-time when their schedules were not consistent across days. Some participants declared the IPAQ sitting question too difficult to answer.

Conclusion

The accuracy of older adults' self-reported sitting time is questionable given the challenges they have in answering sitting-time questions. Their responses to sitting-time questions may be more accurate if our recommendations for clarifying the sitting domains, providing examples relevant to older adults and suggesting strategies for formulating responses are incorporated. Future quantitative studies should include objective criterion measures to assess validity and reliability of these questions.