Open Access Research article

Calibration of self-report tools for physical activity research: the Physical Activity Questionnaire (PAQ)

Pedro F Saint-Maurice1*, Gregory J Welk1, Nicholas K Beyler2, Roderick T Bartee3 and Kate A Heelan3

Author Affiliations

1 235 Forker Building, Ames, IA 50011, USA

2 Mathematica Policy Research, Department of Statistics, 1100 1st Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002, USA

3 Human Performance Lab, 1410 West 26th Street, Kearney, NE 68849, USA

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:461  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-461

Published: 16 May 2014



The utility of self-report measures of physical activity (PA) in youth can be greatly enhanced by calibrating self-report output against objectively measured PA data.

This study demonstrates the potential of calibrating self-report output against objectively measured physical activity (PA) in youth by using a commonly used self-report tool called the Physical Activity Questionnaire (PAQ).


A total of 148 participants (grades 4 through 12) from 9 schools (during the 2009–2010 school year) wore an Actigraph accelerometer for 7 days and then completed the PAQ. Multiple linear regression modeling was used on 70% of the available sample to develop a calibration equation and this was cross validated on an independent sample of participants (30% of sample).


A calibration model with age, gender, and PAQ scores explained 40% of the variance in values for the percentage of time in moderate-to-vigorous PA (%MVPA) measured from the accelerometers (%MVPA = 14.56 - (sex*0.98) - (0.84*age) + (1.01*PAQ)). When tested on an independent, hold-out sample, the model estimated %MVPA values that were highly correlated with the recorded accelerometer values (r = .63) and there was no significant difference between the estimated and recorded activity values (mean diff. = 25.3 ± 18.1 min; p = .17).


These results suggest that the calibrated PAQ may be a valid alternative tool to activity monitoring instruments for estimating %MVPA in groups of youth.

Youth; Accelerometry; Measurement; Public health