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Physical activity and sedentary time in a rural adult population in Malawi compared with an age-matched US urban population



This study was designed to assess patterns of objectively measured physical activity (PA) and sedentary behaviour in a sample of adults in a rural setting from a low-income Sub-Saharan African country (Malawi). The patterns of PA and sedentary behaviour in Malawi were compared with US data collected and analysed using the same methodology.


The Malawi PA data were collected as part of a survey experiment on the measurement of agricultural labor conducted under the World Bank Living Standards Measurement Study program. ActiGraph accelerometers (model GT3X) were worn on the right hip in a household-based sample of 414 working-age adults (15-85 years).


Mean total and 95% CIs for PA by category in min/day for Malawi adults were: sedentary 387.6 (377.4-397.8), low-light 222.1 (214.7-229.5), high-light 136.3 (132.7-139.9), moderate 71.6 (68.8-74.5), vigorous 1.1 (0.5-1.8) and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) 72.8 (69.7-75.9). Mean of PA and sedentary behavior (min/day) summed across age and sex groups are compared between Malawi and US samples: sedentary behaviour, 387.6 vs 525.8 (p<0.001); low-light, 222.1 vs 217.0 (p=ns); high-light, 136.3 vs 45.6 (p<0.001); moderate, 71.6 vs 28.0 (p<0.001); vigorous, 1.1 vs 2.5 (p<0.001); MVPA, 72.8 vs 30.5 (p<0.001). Compared with the USA, Malawi participants averaged consistently less sedentary time/day and more minutes/day in all intensity levels of PA, except for low-light and vigorous PA.


Overall, levels of MVPA and high-light activity in adults in Malawi were substantially higher and sedentary time was substantially lower than those observed in US samples using near identical data collection, scoring and analysis.

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