4727.0.55.002 - Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2012-13  
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ADULT PHYSICAL ACTIVITY (NON-REMOTE AREAS)

Definition

To gauge levels of physical activity, this topic covered four components:

  • walking for fitness, recreation or sport for at least 10 minutes
  • walking continuously to get from place to place (for transport) for at least 10 minutes
  • moderate intensity physical activity/exercise (apart from walking)
  • vigorous intensity physical activity/exercise.

Walking was defined as requiring a 10 minute minimum threshold per session, and aimed to include continuous walking, excluding activities such as walking around a shopping centre as people tend to frequently pause while shopping. Walking for transport and walking for fitness, recreation or sport were collected separately.

Moderate intensity physical activity/exercise was defined as activities that caused a moderate increase in the heart rate or breathing of the respondent. Vigorous intensity physical activity/exercise was defined as activities that caused a large increase in the respondent's heart rate or breathing. Moderate and vigorous physical activity/exercise excluded previously identified walking as well as household chores, gardening or yard work.

Population

Information was collected for persons aged 18 years and over in non-remote areas in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS) and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (NATSINPAS).

Methodology

Respondents were asked a series of questions about the physical activity/exercise they undertook in the last week. Physical activity (adults) was collected in both the NATSIHS and the NATSINPAS surveys with similar questions.

Information on adult exercise level data was first published in First Results using NATSIHS data and referred to a sample of approximately 3,400 people aged 18 years and over. More detailed information on adult physical activity data was published in Physical Activity, using NATSINPAS data and referred to the sample of approximately 1,200 people aged 18 years and over. Some data from the combined samples in the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey is also available and comprises of people aged 18 years and over for a sample of approximately 4,550 people.

For comparison of adult physical activity with NATSIHS only items or for time-series, the NATSIHS file should be used. For comparison with NATSINPAS only items, the NATSINPAS file should be used. Due to comparability issues identified below, the combined Core data file contains minimal adult physical activity data items. When other items collected in the Core are used, the physical activity items available can be used for comparison. For more information on the structure of the AATSIHS, see the Structure of the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey page of this Users' Guide.

Whether met guidelines

Data on physical activity were collected in order to report against the National Physical Activity Guidelines for Australian adults (18 years and over). The Guidelines at the time of the survey recommended at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days. This has been represented by the following three measures:
  • whether met 150 minutes of physical activity per week
  • whether met 150 minutes of physical activity over 5 or more sessions per week
  • whether met 30 minutes of physical activity on 5 or more days per week.

The NATSINPAS collected data that could produce results for the first two measures. The NATSIHS collected data for all three.

To measure against the Guidelines, the data collected was for leisure-time physical activity, in line with Active Australia. NATSIHS collected these questions using the concept of ‘exercise’. NATSINPAS collected these questions using the concept of ‘physical activity’.

The questions used were generally the same in NATSIHS and NATSINPAS and included:
  • walking for fitness, recreation or sport for at least 10 minutes
  • walking continuously to get from place to place for at least 10 minutes
  • moderate physical activity/exercise (apart from walking)
  • vigorous physical activity/exercise.

Moderate and vigorous activity excluded household chores, walking, gardening and yard work.

For each of these domains of physical activity, respondents were asked:
  • the number of sessions they had done of that activity in the last week
  • the total amount of time spent (hours and minutes) doing that activity in the last week.

From this information the following items were derived for persons 18 years and over:


Data itemCalculation

Whether physical activity last week met 150 minutes recommended guidelinesWalking for transport + Walking for fitness + Moderate + Vigorous time
Whether physical activity last week met 150 minutes and 5 sessions recommended guidelinesWalking for transport + Walking for fitness + Moderate + Vigorous time and session
Whether participated in sufficient activity1 in last week (duration only)Walking for transport + Walking for fitness + Moderate + Vigorous time

Vigorous time is multiplied by two.

Output categories:
  • Sufficiently active for health = 150 minutes or more
  • Insufficiently active = 1-149 minutes
  • Inactive = 0 minutes
Whether participated in sufficient activity1 in last week (duration and session)Walking for transport + Walking for fitness + Moderate + Vigorous time

Vigorous time is multiplied by two.

Number of sessions for Walking for transport + Walking for fitness + Moderate + Vigorous

Output categories:
  • Sufficiently active for health = 150 minutes or more and at least 5 sessions
  • Insufficiently active = 1-149 minutes or 150 minutes or more but less than 5 sessions
  • Inactive = 0 minutes
Level of exercise2 undertaken for fitness, recreation or sport in last week (time series)3Duration of physical activity (mins) x Intensity factor (walking for fitness = 3.5, moderate = 5, vigorous = 7.5)4

Output categories:
  • Sedentary: Scores less than 50 (includes no physical activity)
  • Low: Scores of 50 to less than 800
  • Moderate: Scores of 800 to 1,600, or more than 1,600 but with less than 2 hours vigorous physical activity
  • High: Scores more than 1,600 and with 2 hours or more of vigorous physical activity
Level of physical activity2 undertaken for fitness, recreation or sport, or walking for transport in last weekDuration of physical activity (mins) x Intensity factor (walking for fitness = 3.5, walking for transport = 3.5, moderate = 5, vigorous = 7.5)4

Output categories:
  • Sedentary: Scores less than 50 (includes no physical activity)
  • Low: Scores of 50 to less than 800
  • Moderate: Scores of 800 to 1,600, or more than 1,600 but with less than 2 hours vigorous physical activity
  • High: Scores more than 1,600 and with 2 hours or more of vigorous physical activity

1 The ‘Whether participated in sufficient activity’ items are calculated as set out in the Active Australia instructions. These items are similar to the calculations for the ‘Whether met guidelines’ items, with the exception that Vigorous time is multiplied by two.
2 The ‘Level of (exercise/physical activity)’ items were created with the aim of producing a descriptor of relative overall physical activity level, and to indicate the quality of the activities undertaken in terms of maintaining heart, lung and muscle fitness. Intensity, or Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET), is a measure of the energy expenditure required to carry out the exercise, expressed as a multiple of the resting metabolic rate (RMR). This item has historically been used in NATSIHS output. As a result, this item was produced as two versions, to allow time-series to be produced which excludes walking for transport in the calculation.
3 Available on NATSIHS file only.
4 As the NATSIHS does not collect details of the types of activities undertaken, an intensity value was estimated for each of the three domains of exercise identified in the survey, as shown in the above formula. For comparability purposes, NATSINPAS has also utilised the allocated intensity value for this type of variable.


While NATSIHS and NATSINPAS data is generally comparable, care should be used when interpreting the data. Differences in collection including terminology, questions used and ordering are outlined in the Interpretation section.

Days exercised for at least 30 minutes

In the NATSIHS, following on from the walking, moderate and vigorous physical activity questions, respondents were asked on how many days they exercised, and, of those days, how many they did exercise for at least 30 minutes. These questions were asked in order to measure against the 5 days and 30 minutes recommendation that is used in physical activity campaigns.

Typical work day

Employed respondents in NATSIHS were then asked which of the following best described what they do on a typical work day:
  • mostly sitting
  • mostly standing
  • mostly walking
  • mostly heavy labour or physically demanding work.

Vigorous gardening

As part of the collection of walking, moderate and vigorous physical activity, the NATSINPAS also collected data on duration and number of sessions of vigorous gardening. This was keeping consistent with the Active Australia questions, where it is utilised to ensure that this data is not included in the vigorous data, due to a view that the intensity of gardening is over-reported.

Type of activity/whether organised/MET

After the set of physical activity questions in NATSINPAS, respondents were asked to specify the types (up to 10) of moderate/vigorous activities in which they had participated in the last week, and indicate for each activity whether some, all or none of it was organised by a club, association or other such organisation. The activities have had a classification applied, based on that used in the ABS Participation in Sport and Physical Recreation Survey and is the same as that used in the 2011-12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (NNPAS). This data is presented on the Adult Physical activity level, so that each activity can be identified as having been organised/not organised or both.

In processing this type of activity data, MET scores were applied to each physical activity reported using the 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities. 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, even if the respondent identified that they had only undertaken vigorous activity in the preceding questions. The MET scores associated with each reported activity have been provided as a data item for reference purposes and are consistent with those allocated in the 2011-12 NNPAS. For the purposes of calculating against physical activity recommendations in this survey, the MET scores have not been used. This was for consistency with the NATSIHS and other surveys that use the Active Australia questions, and also as some activities are identified as having the MET of less than 3 but the respondent had identified that for them it was considered moderate or vigorous intensity. As the MET scores have been generically applied to the activities, they should be used with caution. The MET scores assigned are outlined in Appendix 8 with the Adult physical activity classification.

Strength and toning

Following the moderate/vigorous questions, NATSINPAS respondents were asked to report on the duration and number of sessions of strength and toning activities they had done in the last week. Muscle strength and toning activity can help maintain bone strength and reduce the risk of osteopenia or osteoporosis.

These activities were defined as being designed to increase muscle strength or tone, such as lifting weights, pull-ups, push-ups, or sit-ups. These sessions were meant to be undertaken with the specific intention of strength and toning, and not include incidental activity, such as carrying or lifting wood for a wood fire or heavy grocery bags. Responses to these questions could include activities for which they had already reported, such as part of training sessions that were considered to meet moderate/vigorous intensity.

Active Transport

NATSINPAS respondents were then asked to identify the ways they got from place to place in the last week. Categories for this question were worded with the aim of being able to produce active versus inactive transport data.

Active transport categories were:
  • Walking
  • Running/jogging
  • Bicycle
  • Rollerblades
  • Skateboard
  • Scooter (without motor)

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.

Interpretation

Points to be considered when interpreting data relating to physical activity (walking, moderate, vigorous activity):
  • The information is 'as reported' by respondents and reflects the respondent's perception of the activity undertaken, the intensity of their participation, their level of fitness, etc. As a result, data should be interpreted with particular care.
  • The intended purpose of the physical activity questions (regarding walking, moderate and vigorous activity) is meant to be focused on leisure-time, in-line with Active Australia instructions. However, as the wording of the questions do not specifically exclude work based activity, it is possible that some respondents included this time. Interviewers were trained to prompt respondents if they thought that work time was being included. Time identified was also reviewed in consideration to time usually spent at work to identify occasions where work time may have been included in order to redefine the data as ‘not known’. Interviewer comments were also reviewed for indications that data may include work time. However in the absence of further information, data has been left as reported.
  • The application of intensity definitions reflected the respondent's perception of moderate or vigorous exercise or walking, and the purpose of that activity. Responses may have varied according to the type of activity performed, the intensity with which it was performed, the level of fitness of the participant, and their general health and other characteristics (e.g. age). For example, some respondents may consider jogging to be moderate exercise while others may consider it vigorous.
  • Walking for transport is a difficult concept to measure and define in a way which is meaningful to both respondents and users of the data. This should be considered when interpreting results.
  • In this survey, walking for fitness, recreation or sport and walking for transport are conceptually separate activities, and occasions should be recorded as of either type, not both. Respondents may, however, have reported the same occasions of walking in both sections, as, for example, they may have chosen to walk to work for the exercise rather than take the bus, but recorded this activity time as both walking for exercise and walking for transport.
  • The 10 minute threshold (per occasion) for walking is set based on advice that this is the minimum time required before some benefits to health accrue from walking. It also provided a cue to respondents about the occasions of walking they should include. However, from analysis, it is clear from some responses recorded that this threshold was not consistently applied by respondents, and this has impacted both reporting of occasions of walking for transport and the total time reported. While on average each session will meet 10 minutes, it cannot be assumed that all sessions met the 10 minute threshold.
  • The physical activity domains were split to aid recall and to provide finer detail. This also provides opportunities for respondents to report activities more than once, although this is discouraged through exclusion statements in the questions.
  • The number of days exercised and number of days exercised for 30 minutes or more data have been found to be inconsistent with data collected via the individual domains of walking, moderate and vigorous activity. For example, in some cases the number of days reported have been higher than the number of sessions identified across the domains. In some cases this may be due to respondents, when thinking about days, not considering only walking that met the 10 minute threshold, or retaining the required intensity levels of other exercise occasions. It may also be reflect social desirability responses when asked as single questions. Therefore data collected from the day items should not be used inconjunction with the domain items.
  • Strength and toning questions were asked about activity that was deliberately intended to increase muscle strength and tone. However, some respondents may have reported activities where muscle strengthening and toning was incidental to the types of activities they were thinking of when answering this question e.g. digging soil while working in the garden.
  • Strength and toning time and session information may also form part of responses to the moderate/vigorous data. As such, due to the duplication of responses, the data cannot be combined with the other physical activity data to contribute further to physical activity measurements unless this duplication is considered appropriate.

In addition to the above points, the following collection differences between the NATSIHS and NATSINPAS should be considered.

Terminology

NATSINPAS uses the term 'physical activity' where NATSIHS uses 'exercise’. The WHO definition of physical activity states:
          "Physical activity includes exercise as well as other activities which involve bodily movement and are done as part of playing, working, active transportation, house chores and recreational activities."

So in essence NATSINPAS collects a broader concept of activity than NATSIHS.

Question ordering

The order of the NATSINPAS walking questions and moderate and vigorous questions was reversed from those asked in NATSIHS.

Ordering of the walking questions has identified some differences. While both surveys reported an average time spent walking for transport higher than average time spent walking for fitness, NATSINPAS (which asks the transport question first) has a significantly larger difference between the two walking questions than NATSIHS. Data items produced using total walking times (e.g. Level of (exercise/physical activity) (undertaken) for fitness, recreation, sport or walking for transport in last week) are not affected by the different collection methods for walking. Where only walking for fitness (e.g. Level of exercise undertaken for fitness, recreation or sport in last week (time series)) is used in an item, there is likely to be some impact from the ordering effect when comparing between surveys and therefore has not been produced for NATSINPAS.

For moderate and vigorous activity, NATSIHS asks about moderate activity first and NATSINPAS asks about vigorous activity first. In both surveys, there is a higher number of sessions and duration reported in response to questions about the first intensity threshold asked. NATSINPAS data for vigorous is approximately 3 times higher when compared to moderate, compared with NATSIHS data for moderate being approximately 1.6 times higher when compared to vigorous.

As factors of 7.5 and 5 are applied to vigorous and moderate activity times respectively for the ‘Level of (exercise/physical activity) (undertaken) for fitness, recreation, sport or walking for transport in last week’ item and vigorous is multiplied by two for the ‘Whether participated in sufficient activity in last week (duration and session)’ and ‘Whether participated in sufficient activity in last week (duration)’ data items, the ordering effect of these two questions is amplified for these items if looked at by each individual survey. Caution should therefore be used if comparing this data from the two survey datasets.

No significant difference was found between the two surveys for combined moderate and vigorous data and combined walking for fitness and transport data. Therefore data which do not have a multiplier such as ‘Whether (exercise/physical activity) last week met 150 minutes recommended guidelines’ and ‘Whether (exercise/physical activity) last week met 150 minutes and 5 sessions recommended guidelines’ which don’t contain a multiplier are considered to be comparable and are available on the Core data files.

Vigorous gardening and other issues

The NATSINPAS calculation of physical activity excludes vigorous gardening data, though there are separate questions to collect information on vigorous gardening activity. NATSIHS did not collect this separately, and although the question collecting exercise excluded gardening, it is possible that some gardening was included in NATSIHS responses. It is expected that the separation of the question in NATSINPAS has increased the likelihood of reporting and as a result the extent to which NATSIHS respondents may have included it in their responses is not comparable to the levels identified by the NATSINPAS questions. This difference in collection should be considered if making comparisons of total activity between the two surveys.

As mentioned in the methodology section, responses for type of moderate/vigorous activity in NATSINPAS have generally been left as reported even if the MET intensity did not meet a moderate intensity level. However, where walking was identified, this data was moved to the walking for fitness question where possible.


Comparability with 2004-05 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS)

The majority of the 2012-13 NATSIHS data on exercise were collected with the same methodology and similar questions to those used in the 2004-05 survey. However, the following differences should be noted:
  • The 2004-05 NATSIHS collected information outlined on this page from persons aged 15 years and over in non-remote and remote areas while the 2012-13 NATSIHS collected information from persons aged 18 years and over in non-remote areas. Comparisons between the two surveys should therefore be limited to non-remote areas and persons aged 18 years and over.
  • The 2004-05 NATSIHS collected information on walking for transport on the day prior to interview. This data was collected for the week prior to interview in the 2012-13 NATSIHS. Therefore this data is not considered comparable.
  • In the 2004-05 NATSIHS, the level of exercise data item was calculated on information collected in the two weeks prior to the interview. This calculation excluded any time collected for walking for transport. In the 2012-13 NATSIHS, level of exercise was calculated using only data collected on physical activity in the week prior to the interview. However, two items were derived, one including walking for transport and one excluding walking for transport. The time and session cut-offs for each level of exercise were adjusted to take into account the week timeframe and are considered to be reasonably comparable to the two week version (although data collected in a week time period may be more susceptible to short-term events such as illness). When comparing the level of exercise between the two surveys, it is recommended that the level of exercise item in 2012-13 identified in the label with (time-series) should be used when comparing with the 2004-05 NATSIHS level of exercise item.
  • Over recent years there has been an increasing focus by governments and media on health and lifestyle issues around obesity and physical activity. While such attention is likely to influence the levels of activity in the community, it may also have an impact on reporting behaviour; for example, creating a tendency to report what is perceived to be a desirable level of activity rather than actual activity. This should be considered in interpreting changes between results from 2012-13 and 2004-05 surveys.

Comparisons between 2012-13 NATSINPAS physical activity data and historical NATSIHS data should be made with caution and are not recommended, as per the differences outlined between the 2012-13 NATSIHS and NATSINPAS outlined in the interpretation section.

Comparability with 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS)

The 2008 NATSISS collected data on attendance at sporting events in the last 12 months or attendance/participation in sporting activities in the last 3 months and the frequency of attendance. Given the difference in question reference periods, and the questions are conceptually different to those collected in the 2012-13 AATSIHS, no comparisons are considered appropriate.

Comparability with 2011-12 Australian Health Survey (AHS)

The 2011-12 AHS surveys have the same ordering differences between National Health Survey (NHS) and National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (NNPAS) as those found in the NATSIHS and NATSINPAS. As such, it is not recommended to compare NNPAS data with NATSIHS data or NHS data with NATSINPAS data.

In addition, the 2011-12 NHS collected data from selected persons aged 15 years and over, rather than 18 years and over as in the 2012-13 surveys. Therefore, the population needs to be restricted to 18 years and over when comparing NHS data to NATSIHS data and this population is considered to be directly comparable.

NNPAS is also considered to be directly comparable to NATSINPAS.

Caution must be taken when comparing 2012-13 AATSIHS with 2011-12 AHS data, due to differences in the proportion of respondents in each survey. As the ordering of questions has affected the data, and a different proportion of respondents were asked about vigorous physical activity before moderate physical activity and walking for transport before walking for fitness in the 2012-13 AATSIHS compared with the 2011-12 AHS (26% versus 38%), care should be taken when comparing the physical activity data between the combined Core data files.

Comparability with Active Australia surveys

This topic uses the Active Australia questionnaire, which allows comparisons to be made with other surveys that have used the same questionnaire. It captures the total amount of physical activity for the week prior to interview by number of sessions and duration of each activity domain.

Some modifications have been made to the original questions for use in ABS health surveys:
  • Walking for fitness and walking for transport have been split into separate questions for this current cycle and the 2004-05 NATSIHS (although 2004-05 collected walking for transport only for the day prior to interview and therefore cannot be compared with other surveys that collect data as a combined walking for transport/walking for fitness concept). Prior to these surveys only the concept of fitness was collected by ABS health surveys. Transport was introduced to be more in-line with other surveys, but has been kept separate so it can be excluded from time-series calculations.
  • The term ‘estimate’ is not used in the questions, which is consistent with the general approach taken by the ABS to not use this term in questions.
  • Questions about vigorous activity in Active Australia appear before questions about moderate activity. The NATSINPAS has kept the questions in this order to allow for closer comparability to Active Australia surveys. However, NATSIHS has historically asked the questions in the reverse order and this was retained for this cycle to maintain time-series comparability.

As a result of these modifications, as well as different collection methodologies that are used by other surveys (such as telephone interviews), some care should be used when comparing AATSIHS survey data with other surveys that use the Active Australia questions



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