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Physical activity measures in the 1946 National Survey of Health and Development

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Learn about the 1946 National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD) and its measurement of physical activity

Longitudinal study description

The NSHD is the first national birth study in Britain. Initially it was a maternity survey of 13,687 of all recorded births of singletons in one week of March 1946 in England, Scotland, and Wales. The follow-up study is based on a socially stratified sample of 5,362 babies born to married parents. A total of 24 sweeps of data have been collected on participants who are now in their 70s. During childhood, data collection involved interviews with mothers and teachers, child tests, and school medical examinations, and from early teenage years study members themselves started to provide information. In adult sweeps, data were increasingly collected by research nurses who administered questionnaires and carried out physical assessments including biomedical measures. Other adult sweeps involved postal questionnaires. The latest core sweep of data was collected at 68-69y with a total of 2,638 of the original study members taking part [94-96]. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the NSHD was included in data collection across the British birth cohorts along with NCDS, BCS70, and MCS. A web-based interview was carried out in May 2020 (Wave 1), September-October 2020 (Wave 2), and February-March 2021 (Wave 3), when NSHD members were aged 74.

Physical activity overview (23 to 74y)

No data on physical activity were ascertained in childhood or adolescence in the NSHD. Self-reported measures across each physical activity domain were ascertained across adulthood from 23 to 74y. Leisure time physical activity was measured at ages 31, 36, 43, 53, 60-64, 68-69y (and 74y in the COVID-19 waves). Occupational activity was measured at ages 36, 43, and 60-64y. Active travel was measured at ages 36 and 60-64y. Domestic activities were measured at ages 36, 43, 53, 60-64y, (and 74y in the COVID-19 waves. Finally, sedentary behaviour was measured at 60-64y and at 74y in the COVID-19 waves.

In terms of comparability within this longitudinal study, leisure time physical activity (LTPA) was measured the most frequently; age 36y was based on the Minnesota LTPA questionnaire [97], while the age 60-64y was based on a modified version of the EPAQ-2 (EPIC Physical Activity Questionnaire) [98]. Each measure reports the past 4 weeks of physical activity engagement, and previous work in NSHD has compared across each age by categorising those reporting no activity as inactive; those participating one to four times as moderately active; and those participating five or more as most active [99]. Occurrence of occupational physical activity was reported, and frequency may be compared although scales vary slightly. Measures of preferred travel methods and frequency (days/week) are comparable across ages 36 and 43y, although response scales for distance and duration are not comparable. Overall engagement in domestic activity is comparable across ages, although duration-related questions involve different timelines and are therefore difficult to compare (i.e. hour/month in the last month vs hours in the last year) while others do not specify the timespan of recall. Frequency of domestic activity is comparable across ages on the monthly scale with ages 30-40 specifying past 4 weeks and age 60y specifying past 12 months. Finally, measures of sedentary behaviour duration were recorded from ages 60-64y and therefore have no earlier ages to compare to.

Additionally, objective measures of daily activity were captured at ages 60-64y using the ActiHeart (chest-worn device that measures movement and heart rate) and, at ages 68-69y using the GCDC X15-1c triaxial accelerometer (Gulf Coast Data Concepts, Waveland, Mississippi), the latter as part of the VIBE study [100].

Data access

NSHD data are freely accessible to bona fide researchers by applying through the NSHD data sharing website. More information on the NSHD and how to access the data is available on the NSHD 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’.