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Physical activity measures in the 1958 National Child Development Study

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Learn about the 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS) and its measurement of physical activity

Longitudinal study description

The National Child Development Study (NCDS) was originally known as the Perinatal Mortality Study and was initially developed in response to concerns about levels of stillbirths and neonatal births. It surveyed 17,415 babies born in a single week in March 1958 in England, Scotland and Wales. The study has since continued to collect data throughout the life course, at ages 7, 11, 16, 23, 33, 42, 44, 46, 50 and 55y. Data collection at 62y is ongoing at the time of writing, but COVID-19 waves are available. Although the study was initially focused on child health, it has evolved to incorporate many other important domains and outcomes. In childhood, parents (typically mothers) were the main reporters, but also teachers and schools have provided data, and children completed tests and underwent medical examinations. From the age of 16y and throughout adulthood, study members have provided data through interviews, self-completed questionnaires, tests of skills and ability, and biomedical and physical assessments have also been carried out. The most recent core sweep was in 2013 when study members were aged 55y, with a total of 9,137 participating [101]. The NCDS was included in the COVID-19 waves of data collection in the British birth cohorts. A web-based interview was carried out in May 2020 (Wave 1), September-October 2020 (Wave 2), and February-March 2021 (Wave 3), when NCDS members were aged 62.


Physical activity overview (11 to 62y)

NCDS contains childhood and adult self-reported measures across each physical activity domain (from 11-55y). Leisure time physical activity was measured at ages 11, 16, 23, 33, 42, 44, 50, and 55y (and 62y in the COVID waves), with leisure time variables at age 44 based on a modified version of the EPAQ-2 (EPIC physical activity questionnaire) [98]. Occupational physical activity was measured at ages 33, 44, 50 and 55y. Active travel was measured at ages 44 and 46y. Domestic activities were measured at ages 33, 44, and 50y (and 62y in the COVID waves). Finally, sedentary behaviour was measured at ages 11, 16, 23, and 44y (and 62y in the COVID waves).

In terms of comparability across time within this longitudinal study, leisure time physical activity can be compared in terms of intensity and frequency of engagement on the weekly/non weekly level. Occupational activity can be compared by intensity in earlier ages, although only engagement in specific activities (i.e. standing) can be compared across ages 33, 44, 50, and 55y. Active travel measures only appear in ages 44-46y and can therefore not be compared longitudinally. Frequency of domestic activities may be compared on the weekly level, although there are some slight differences in wording; this domain may also be comparable based on type of activity. Sedentary behaviour in childhood, while again slightly different, may be comparable on frequency. Finally, sedentary behaviour in adulthood is not directly comparable as measures vary from frequency to duration.

Data access

NCDS data are freely accessible to bona fide researchers by applying through the UK Data Service. More information on NCDS is available on the CLS website.


Learn about the other studies covered by this guide and their measurement of physical activity:

Explore the measures by physical activity domain and their cross-study comparability:

Further information:

This page is part of the CLOSER resource: ‘Physical activity across age and study: a guide to data in six CLOSER studies’.