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Combining sensor tracking with a GPS-based mobility survey to better measure physical activity in trips: public transport generates walking



Policymakers need accurate data to develop efficient interventions to promote transport physical activity. Given the imprecise assessment of physical activity in trips, our aim was to illustrate novel advances in the measurement of walking in trips, including in trips incorporating non-walking modes.


We used data of 285 participants (RECORD MultiSensor Study, 2013-2015, Paris region) who carried GPS receivers and accelerometers over 7 days and underwent a phone-administered web mobility survey on the basis of algorithm-processed GPS data. With this mobility survey, we decomposed trips into unimodal trip stages with their start/end times, validated information on travel modes, and manually complemented and cleaned GPS tracks. This strategy enabled to quantify walking in trips with different modes with two alternative metrics: distance walked and accelerometry-derived number of steps taken.


Compared with GPS-based mobility survey data, algorithm-only processed GPS data indicated that the median distance covered by participants per day was 25.3 km (rather than 23.4 km); correctly identified transport time vs. time at visited places in 72.7% of time; and correctly identified the transport mode in 67% of time (and only in 55% of time for public transport). The 285 participants provided data for 8983 trips (21,163 segments of observation). Participants spent a median of 7.0% of their total time in trips. The median distance walked per trip was 0.40 km for entirely walked trips and 0.85 km for public transport trips (the median number of accelerometer steps were 425 and 1352 in the corresponding trips). Overall, 33.8% of the total distance walked in trips and 37.3% of the accelerometer steps in trips were accumulated during public transport trips. Residents of the far suburbs cumulated a 1.7 times lower distance walked per day and a 1.6 times lower number of steps during trips per 8 h of wear time than residents of the Paris core city.


Our approach complementing GPS and accelerometer tracking with a GPS-based mobility survey substantially improved transport mode detection. Our findings suggest that promoting public transport use should be one of the cornerstones of policies to promote physical activity.

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