Understanding Environmental and Contextual Influences of Physical Activity During First-Year University: The Feasibility of Using Ecological Momentary Assessment in the MovingU Study Journal Articles uri icon

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  • BACKGROUND: It is well established that drastic declines in physical activity (PA) occur during young adults' transition into university; however, our understanding of contextual and environmental factors as it relates to young adults' PA is limited. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of our study was to examine the feasibility of using wrist-worn accelerometers and the use of ecological momentary assessment (EMA) to assess the context and momentary correlates of PA on multiple occasions each day during first-year university. METHODS: First-year university students were asked to participate in the study. The participants completed a brief questionnaire and were subsequently asked to wear an ActiGraph GT9X-Link accelerometer and respond to a series of EMA prompts (7/day) via their phones for 5 consecutive days. RESULTS: A total of 96 first-year university students with smartphones agreed to participate in the study (mean age 18.3 [SD 0.51]; n=45 females). Overall, there was good compliance for wearing the accelerometers, with 91% (78/86) of the participants having ≥2 days of ≥10 hours of wear time (mean=3.53 valid days). Students were generally active, averaging 10,895 steps/day (SD 3413) or 1123.23 activity counts/min (SD 356.10). Compliance to EMA prompts was less desirable, with 64% (55/86) of the participants having usable EMA data (responding to a minimum of ≥3 days of 3 prompts/day or ≥4 days of 2 prompts/day), and only 47% (26/55) of these participants were considered to have excellent EMA compliance (responding to ≥5 days of 4 prompts/day or ≥ 4 days of 5 prompts/day). CONCLUSIONS: This study represents one of the first studies to use an intensive real-time data capture strategy to examine time-varying correlates of PA among first-year university students. These data will aim to describe the physical and social contexts in which PA occurs and examine the relationships between momentary correlates of PA among the first-year university students. Overall, current results suggest that wrist-worn accelerometers and EMA are feasible methods for data collection among the young adult population; however, more work is needed to understand how to improve upon compliance to a real-time data capture method such as EMA.


  • Bedard, Chloe
  • King-Dowling, Sara
  • McDonald, Madeline
  • Dunton, Genevieve
  • Cairney, John
  • Kwan, Matthew Yiu

publication date

  • May 31, 2017