Research Study Abstract

Combining GPS, GIS, and accelerometry to explore the physical activity and environment relationship in children and young people – a review

  • Published on Sept. 13, 2014

Abstract: The environment has long been associated with physical activity engagement, and recent developments in technology have resulted in the ability to objectively quantify activity behaviours and activity context. This paper reviews studies that have combined Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and accelerometry to investigate the PA-environment relationship in children and young people (5–18 years old). Literature searches of the following bibliographic databases were undertaken: Sportdiscus, Medline, Embase, CINAHL, Psychinfo and Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts (ASSIA). Fourteen studies met the inclusion criteria, and covered topics including greenspace use, general land use, active travel, and the built environment. Studies were largely cross-sectional and took place across developed countries (UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia). Findings suggest that roads and streets, school grounds, and the home location are important locations for total PA, and moderate to vigorous PA (MVPA). The relationship between greenspace was positive, however, multiple definitions and outcome measures add complexity to the results. MVPA was more likely in those exposed to higher levels of greenspace compared to sedentary individuals. Total MVPA time in greenspace is low, but when framed as a proportion of the total can be quite high. Domestic gardens may be an important area for higher intensity activity.

Researchers are encouraged to show transparency in their methods. As a relatively new area of research, with ever-evolving technology, future work is best placed in developing novel, but robust, methods to investigate the PA and environment relationship. Further descriptive work is encouraged to build on a small but increasing knowledge base; however, longitudinal studies incorporating seasonal/weather variation would also be extremely beneficial to elicit some of the nuances associated with land use. A greater understanding of geographic variation (i.e. within and between countries), as well as urban/suburban and rural dwelling is welcomed, and future work should also include the investigation of psycho-social health as an outcome, as well as differences in socio-economic status, sex and adiposity.


  • Paul RW McCrorie
  • Candida Fenton
  • Anne Ellaway


  • MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, 200 Renfield Street, Glasgow G2 3QB, Scotland


International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity


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