Physical activity surveillance in Australia: standardisation is overdue


Physical activity plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health and well-being. In Australia, understanding and monitoring physical activity levels among the population are essential for public health planning and intervention. However, the current landscape of physical activity surveillance in the country lacks standardization, hindering the accuracy and comparability of data. This article explores the need for standardization in physical activity surveillance in Australia and its potential impact on public health initiatives.

The Current State of Physical Activity Surveillance:

Australia employs various methods to monitor physical activity, including surveys, self-reporting, and objective measurements like accelerometers. While these approaches provide valuable insights, the lack of standardization across data collection methods, definitions, and reporting formats makes it challenging to draw meaningful comparisons and track trends over time. Additionally, the absence of a unified framework hampers the ability to develop targeted and effective public health strategies.

Challenges and Inconsistencies:

One of the primary challenges in the current physical activity surveillance system is the inconsistency in measurement tools and protocols. Different surveys and studies adopt diverse methodologies, making it difficult to harmonize data for a comprehensive national overview. This lack of standardization also affects the reliability of cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses, limiting the ability to identify patterns and disparities in physical activity levels across demographics.

Furthermore, variations in the definition of physical activity intensity, duration, and types of activities contribute to the disparities in reported data. Without a common language and set of criteria, interpreting and comparing results becomes a complex task for researchers, policymakers, and public health practitioners.

The Importance of Standardisation:

Standardization in physical activity surveillance is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it enables accurate and consistent data collection, fostering reliability in the assessment of physical activity levels across diverse populations. A standardized approach facilitates the comparison of findings between different regions, age groups, and socioeconomic backgrounds, offering a more comprehensive understanding of the factors influencing physical activity participation.

Secondly, standardization enhances the ability to monitor trends over time. With consistent measurement tools and definitions, it becomes easier to identify shifts in physical activity patterns and assess the impact of interventions. This longitudinal perspective is essential for designing targeted and evidence-based strategies to promote physical activity and combat sedentary behaviors.

Recommendations for Standardisation:

To address the current challenges, there is a need for a comprehensive approach to standardization in physical activity surveillance in Australia. This includes the development of a national framework that establishes common definitions, measurement tools, and reporting formats. Collaborative efforts among researchers, health professionals, and policymakers are essential to ensure that the standardization process is inclusive and reflective of the diverse Australian population.

Additionally, investing in technology and infrastructure to support objective measurements, such as accelerometers and wearable devices, can contribute to more accurate and reliable data collection. Integrating these technologies into national surveys can provide a more nuanced understanding of physical activity patterns and help overcome the limitations of self-reporting.


In conclusion, the standardization of physical activity surveillance in Australia is long overdue. The current lack of consistency in measurement tools, definitions, and reporting formats poses significant challenges to public health efforts. By establishing a national framework and fostering collaboration among stakeholders, Australia can enhance the accuracy and comparability of physical activity data. This, in turn, will contribute to the development of targeted and effective public health strategies aimed at promoting physical activity and improving the overall health of the population.