Few studies have quantified levels of habitual physical activity across the entire intensity range. We aimed to describe variability in total and intensity-specific physical activity levels in UK adolescents across gender, socio-demographic, temporal and body composition strata.
Physical activity energy expenditure and minutes per day (min/d) spent sedentary and in light, moderate, and vigorous intensity physical activity were assessed in 825 adolescents from the ROOTS study (43.5% boys; mean age 15.0 ± 0.30 years), by 4 days of individually calibrated combined heart rate and movement sensing. Measurement days were classified as weekday or weekend and according to the three school terms: summer (April-July), autumn (September-December), and spring (January-March). Gender and age were self-reported and area-level SES determined by postcode data. Body composition was measured by anthropometry and bio-electrical impedance. Variability in physical activity and sedentary time was analysed by linear multilevel modelling, and logistic multilevel regression was used to determine factors associated with physical inactivity (<60 min moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity/d).
During awake hours (15.8 ± 0.9 hrs/d), adolescents primarily engaged in light intensity physical activity (517 min/d) and sedentary time (364 min/d). Boys were consistently more physically active and less sedentary than girls, but gender differences were smaller at weekends, as activity levels in boys dropped more markedly when transitioning from weekday to weekend. Boys were more sedentary on both weekend days compared to during the week, whereas girls were more sedentary on Sunday but less sedentary on Saturday. In both genders light intensity physical activity was lower in spring, while moderate physical activity was lower in autumn and spring terms, compared to the summer term; sedentary time was also higher in spring than summer term. Adolescents with higher fatness engaged in less vigorous intensity physical activity. Factors associated with increased odds of physical inactivity were female gender, both weekend days in boys, and specifically Sunday in girls.
Physical activity components vary by gender, temporal factors and body composition in UK adolescents. The available data indicate that in adolescence, girls should be the primary targets of interventions designed to increase physical activity levels.