Understanding environmental-contextual influences of physical activity during first-year university: Feasibility of using ecological momentary assessment

  • Matthew Kwan Family Medicine, McMaster University
  • Sara King-Dowling Kinesiology, McMaster University
  • Chloe Bedard Health Sciences, McMaster University
  • John Cairney Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto


Introduction: It is well established that drastic declines in physical activity (PA) occur during young adults' transition into university (Kwan et al., 2012); however, our understanding of the environmental-contextual factors related to young adults' PA is limited. The purpose of our study is to examine the feasibility of using wrist-worn accelerometers and ecological momentary assessment (EMA) to gain insight into contextual and momentary correlates of PA during first-year university. Methods: A total of 96 first-year university students with smartphones agreed to participate in the study (Mage=18.32 +.88; n= 55 females). Participants completed a brief questionnaire, and subsequently asked to wear a GT9X-Link accelerometer and respond to a series of EMA prompts (seven/day) via their phones for five consecutive days. Results: Overall, there was good compliance for wearing the accelerometers, with 89% of participants having >2 days, and 79% having >3 days of >8 hours of weartime (M=3.76 days). Students were generally active, averaging 7362+1752 steps/day or 1121.47+349.00 counts/min of total activity. Responses to EMA prompts (very brief questionnaires) were less desirable, with 64% of participants having usable EMA data (M=18.88 responses); and only 46% meeting stricter criteria of >3 prompts/day for >3 or more days, including one weekend day (M=21.11 responses). Discussion: This study represents the first to use an intensive real-time data capture strategy to examine environmental-contextual factors related to PA at university. Future work aims to describe the physical and social contexts in which PA occurs, and examine the relationships between momentary assessments of affective and feeling states and PA among first-year university students.

Acknowledgments: MovingU Study funded by SSHRC