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Scottish Physical Activity Data Sources

Describing and understanding the health of Scotland's population and the factors that shape it is essential to improving health and reducing inequalities. It enables good design of actions, targeting of resources and assessment of the impact of programmes and policies.

NHS Health Scotland currently funds two national surveys: the Knowledge, Attitudes and Motivations (KAM) module within the Scottish Health Survey (which replaces the previous Health Education Population Survey) and the Scottish component of the international survey on Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC).

Information on these and other surveys particularly relevant to Scottish health is provided at Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO).

Health Behaviour in School-aged Children

The 2006 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey included one question that focused on physical activity of at least moderate intensity carried out at school and/or in free-time during the previous week. The question was:

Over the past 7 days, on how many days were you physically active for a total of at least 60 minutes per day?

The response categories were: 0 days, 1 day, 2 days, ...7 days. A score of 5 or more classified the respondent as meeting the recommendation of one hour or more moderate activity on most days of the week (five or more).

The 2006 report compared the responses of boys and girls across countries in terms of the percentage of young people at least one hour daily on moderate/vigorous activity.

Health Education Population Survey

The Health Education Population Survey (HEPS) are asked how much time in an average day they spend walking out of doors (excluding leisure-time walking such as hill-walking, rambling or golf). Respondents are also asked questions about a list of specific physical activities. They are asked if they do these activities in a typical week, how many times, if they put in enough effort to make them sweaty and out of breath, and how long on average they do the activities for on each occasion.

Scottish Health Survey

The Scottish Health Survey physical activity module of the questionnaire collects information on the frequency, usual duration and usual intensity of physical activity over the four-week period immediately prior to interview. This allows the calculation of summary measures of physical activity, so that levels of activity can be assessed against recognised guidelines.

The questionnaire asks about four broad types of activity: activity at home (housework, gardening, DIY); walks of 15 minutes or more; sports and exercise activities; and activity at work. For each of these types of activity, questions are asked to establish the frequency, duration and intensity of activity in the four weeks prior to interview.

Scottish Household Survey

The Scottish Household Survey includes a module of questions on travel and transport. This includes the question:

How do you usually travel to work (or school/college/university if in full-time education)?

Combining Results

Recent analysis of long term trends in physical activity from (1995-2006), combining data from three Scottish Health Surveys (1995, 1998 and 2003) and ten Health Education Population Surveys (spanning 1996 to 2006), indicates a modest rise in the proportion of men and women doing enough physical activity for their health since the mid-1990s. The report also describes inequalities in compliance with the recommendations by gender, age and deprivation. It concludes with recommendations for future survey-based monitoring of physical activity in Scotland.

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