The validity of self-reported leisure time physical activity, and its relationship to serum cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index. A population based study of 332,182 men and women aged 40-42 years.
The importance of leisure time physical activity as a health indicator became more obvious after the results of large prospective studies were published. The validity of these results depends upon both the selection of the active individuals and to what extent self-reported physical activity reflects the individual's true activity. The purpose of this paper is to describe the changes in self-reported physical activity, and to assess the relation between this variable and other biological risk factors such as blood lipids, blood pressure and body mass index (BMI). This report also aims at corroborating the validity of self-reported physical activity by assessing the consistency of the associations between these biological risk factors and physical activity during a 25-years period. The basis for this analysis is a long lasting observational study with a questionnaire as the most important research instrument, in addition to physiological and biological factors such as BMI, blood pressure and blood lipids. The study population consists of 332,182 individuals, aged 40-42 from different counties in Norway who were invited to participate in health survey during 1974-1999. The objectives of this study are (1) to describe changes in self-reported physical activity from 1974 to 1999; (2) to assess the relation between physical activity and the biological variables; and (3) to corroborate the validity of the variable physical activity by assessing the consistency of the above analysis. The results of the analyses of association between decade of birth and self-reported physical activity show that physical activity among 40-aged individuals decreased during 1974-1999. This trend is stronger among the men. Multivariate analyses revealed differences in BMI and serum cholesterol between levels of self-reported physical activity, gender, smoking habits and decade of birth. The explained percentage of the total variance ranged from 6% for BMI to 7% for serum cholesterol. The similar shape of serum cholesterol and BMI according to physical activity indicates that the validity of self-reported physical activity has remained stable over these 25 years. Furthermore, the analysis of covariance showed that the slopes relating year of birth and serum cholesterol and BMI are parallel for self-reported physical activity thus the validity of the variable is confirmed.