4363.0.55.001 - Australian Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2011-13  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/07/2013   
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All  



The National Physical Activity Recommendations for children cover two components, physical activity and screen-based activity. This topic focuses on the collection of physical activity data.

The current National Physical Activity Recommendations for 5-12 year olds and the National Physical Activity Recommendations for 12-18 year olds recommend at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. For this survey 18 year olds are not included with the 5-17 year olds.

To assess against these recommendations and relating factors, this topic covers the following components of physical activity:

  • number of days did physical activity for at least 60 minutes in the week prior to interview
  • type and duration of physical activity undertaken for transport to or from school/place of study and other places on each of the seven days prior to interview
  • type and duration of organised and non-organised moderate to vigorous physical activities undertaken on each of the seven days prior to interview.

For the purpose of this topic, moderate to vigorous physical activity is defined as any activity that increases the respondent's heart rate and makes them get out of breath some of the time. This was split into two components - active transport and other moderate to vigorous physical activities. Active transport included walking, cycling, skateboarding, scootering or rollerblading to get to or from places. This also included active transport to get to or from a form of non-active transport - for example, walking to the bus stop. Other moderate to vigorous physical activities were noted to include activities such as running around, school Physical Education (PE) classes, skipping, rollerblading, dancing, and individual/team sports.

Each physical activity has a Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) score associated with it - a measure of the energy cost of the activity. A MET score is expressed as the ratio of metabolic rate of that activity and resting metabolic rate (with resting metabolic rate defined as one MET). A score of three METs is considered to meet the threshold for moderate to vigorous physical activity. Those under three have been classified as ‘light activity’ and are excluded from calculations.

For reporting purposes, physical activity is used to describe aggregated data items based on both active transport and moderate/vigorous physical activity. Moderate/vigorous physical activity does not include active transport in the calculation.

Activities classed as organised were defined as activities organised by a club, association or any other type of organisation.


Information was collected for selected persons aged 5 to 17 years in the NNPAS.


The collection methodology of this topic relied on respondent recall, and did not make use of a diary or other form of recording activities. Child involvement in answering the questions was encouraged but was not always possible. Please see the Interviews section of Data collection for more information on proxy use in the child physical activity module. A data item is available for respondents 6-17 years which identifies level of child and/or proxy involvement in this module.

The module begins by asking respondents on which of the past seven days school was attended. This allows for data to be analysed based on days attended school, as well as weekday and weekend comparisons.

Whether the physical activity recommendation was met was collected in two ways, producing two data items for whether a respondent met the physical activity recommendation. The first of these uses the Health Behaviours in School Children (HBSC) question developed by the World Health Organisation. This question asked respondents on how many days over the past seven days they were physically active for a total of 60 minutes or more. Activity did not need to be consecutive - for example, it could consist of three 20 minute sessions across the day - it just needed to total 60 minutes or more for a given day.

To calculate the second method of measuring whether a respondent met the physical activity recommendation, questions looped for each day in the seven days prior to interview to capture detailed physical activity data for each day. This met the requirement to measure against recommendations that are based on meeting daily targets, as well as providing data on how close to the recommendations children might be. In these questions respondents were asked if they did any of the following physical activities on each of those days:
  • walking, bike riding or skateboarding/scootering/rollerblading to get to or from school/their place of study and other places (use of public transport or a private vehicle was also indicated but no further information collected as this does not contribute to either the physical or screen-based activity recommendations)
  • other specific types of moderate to vigorous physical activity (not used to get to or from places) - for example, running around, school PE classes, skipping, rollerblading, dancing, and individual/team sports.

For each of these components, respondents were asked the total amount of time spent (hours and minutes) doing that physical activity type on that day. This information was used to calculate whether the physical activity recommendation was met by summing all forms of active transport and moderate to vigorous physical activity undertaken on each day, taking into account the MET score (as described below). The physical activity recommendation was considered to be met for a given day if the time spent on physical activity totalled 60 minutes or more.

Moderate to vigorous physical activity type was collected through the use of a trigram coder. More general activity categories such as ‘Aerobics/ exercising (other)’ were available if a specific activity could not be found. If still no appropriate category was available, a text response could be entered which was re-coded to a trigram response wherever possible, and otherwise to "Physical activity – NEC” (Not Elsewhere Classified). The category "Physical activity – NFD” (Not Further Defined) was used if insufficient information was provided about the activity. The data has been output using a classification generally based on the ABS Survey of Children's Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities and can be found in Appendix 7 of this Users’ Guide or in the Data item list.

Questions were looped for each moderate to vigorous physical activity to determine time spent doing the activity and whether all, some, or none of the activity was organised. If only some was organised, the time of the organised component was then collected. Due to the organised question not being asked for active transport categories, during processing these responses were assigned as non-organised activity, to allow them to be incorporated into organised/non-organised calculations.

MET scores were applied to each physical activity type reported using the Compendium of Energy Expenditures for Youth. In the compendium some activities have multiple MET scores (depending on intensity or specific type, for example). Where this was the case, the lowest score on or above the moderate activity threshold was assigned. The MET scores associated with each reported activity have been provided as a data item for reference purposes. The MET scores assigned are outlined in Appendix 7 with the Child physical activity classification.

For the purposes of calculating against physical activity recommendations in this survey, the MET applied to each activity was used to exclude activities which fell below the minimum threshold for moderate activity (equivalent to three METs). These activities are defined as ‘light activities’ and data associated with these are available on the child (5-17 years) physical activity detail level only. As the question asked for moderate to vigorous physical activities, light activities collected are not representative of all light activities undertaken by respondents but only those perceived by respondents to be of moderate to vigorous intensity.

Data Items

The data items and related output categories for this topic are available in Excel spreadsheet format from the Downloads page of this product.


Points to be considered in interpreting data for this topic include the following:
  • Whether a person met the physical activity recommendation was collected in two separate ways – using the HBSC question and through accumulation of activities reported across the seven-day loop. Due to the differences of collection methodologies, output for these two methods is not comparable.
  • The collection of this information involved respondent recall and is ‘as reported’ by respondents. It therefore reflects the respondent's perception of activities undertaken, the intensity of participation and their level of fitness.
  • Accuracy of responses may vary with the proximity of the reporting day to the interview day. Analysis of data by order of days reported indicated that although there is a small decline in activities reported over the week (that is, a peak on the first day prior to interview and reducing slightly with greater distance from the interview day) this does not appear to have had an effect on patterns reported by day of week. The difference between day 1 average and the actual seven-day average suggests that the size of the under-estimates on weighted average time spent doing physical activity is around 11%.
  • The types of physical activities that could be found in the trigram coder were extensive and reporting of the respondent’s activity relied on the interviewer to select the appropriate response. As such, similar or the same activities may have been coded against different responses at the detailed level (for example, ‘playing’ versus ‘active mucking around’), therefore care should be used with data at the very detailed level.
  • The range of activities reported as organised activity indicates that some respondents had a broader interpretation to the intended definition of organised, particularly for non-traditional organised activities, and may include a number of activities informally organised by a person as opposed to an official organised activity (for example, ‘active mucking around’ organised by a child care centre).
  • ‘Light activities’ found at the detail level are not representative of all light activities, only those perceived by the respondent to be of moderate to vigorous intensity and therefore reported in the moderate to vigorous physical activity question. Data has been left on the file for use if desired. However, derived data items do not include light activities in the calculations.
  • Counts of unique physical activities undertaken over the last seven days (one for all, organised and non-organised activities) are available as output items. This count considers activities undertaken for active transport and for other purposes to be separate. For example, if a respondent rode a scooter to get to or from school but also rode a scooter around the backyard, these would be counted as two separate activities. These counts do not include activities classified as light activities.
  • There were varying levels of child participation in answering the questions, depending on age and parental permission. The accuracy of reports for activities occurring when the parent was not present (for example, activities during the school day) may therefore vary.
  • There has been an increasing emphasis on the importance of physical activity for children in recent years. This may have introduced bias with the reporting of socially desirable responses in some instances.

Comparability with other surveys

The questions used to collect data on this topic have not previously been used in an ABS survey. Similar data has been collected in the ABS Survey of Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities (released under cat. no. 4901.0). This included data on participation in organised sports and recreational activities including bike riding, skateboarding, rollerblading and riding a scooter.

Several surveys, both within Australia and internationally, have attempted to capture data on child/youth physical activity. For example, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children has collected time use and diary data on organised sports and training, and other types of physical activity, including play time and walking or cycling/riding a scooter/skateboarding for transport. The 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey collected diary data on 9-16 year olds on active transport and moderate/vigorous physical activity and also measures against the physical activity recommendation.

However, due to differences in collection methodologies (for example, use of diaries or phone interviews), reference periods (for example 2 weeks, 12 months), number and type of days reported on, and time exclusions (such as outside school hours) of these and other surveys, the AHS data is not considered directly comparable to other surveys and comparisons should be made with caution.

Previous PageNext Page