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Data from the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) and the 1996/1997 National Population Health Survey (NPHS)were used to estimate physical activity levels.  The CCHS and NPHS are general health surveys that cover the household population aged 12 or older.  They do not include residents of Indian reserves, institutions and some remote areas; full-time members of the Canadian Forces; and civilian residents of military bases.

Data for cycle 3.1 of the CCHS were collected from January through December, 2005.  The overall response rate was 79%; the sample size was 132,947, weighted to represent 27.1 million people. 

Cycle 2 of the NPHS was conducted in 1996/1997 and covered the household population in the 10 provinces.  The overall response rate was 82.6%,; the sample size was 73,402, weighted to represent 24.6 million people.

To account for the multi-stage sample design of the surveys, the bootstrap technique was used to calculate confidence intervals and coefficients of variation, and to test the statistical significance of differences.6-8  A significance level of p < 0.05 was applied in all cases.

Participation in physical activity is self-reported, and therefore, may be subject to social desirability and recall biases.  Some research has suggested that self-reports overestimate the actual amount of activity in which respondents participate.9-11 

For ease of analysis, the average daily energy expenditure cut-offs that classify respondents as active, moderately active or inactive were applied to both adults and adolescents, although some guidelines recommend higher levels of physical activity for youth.12

The questions about participation in different physical activities specify leisure time.  However, if respondents also included their usual daily activities or walking or bicycling as a means of transportation, participation in leisure-time walking and bicycling would be overestimated.

The proportion of respondents interviewed by telephone or by personal interview has an effect on some estimates, including physical activity.  Most interviews for the 1996/1997 NPHS were conducted by telephone, whereas for the 2005 CCHS, about 40% were personal interviews, and around 60% were by telephone.  One study has found that respondents interviewed by telephone tend to report higher levels of leisure-time physical activity than do those interviewed in person.13  Thus, the difference between activity levels in 1996/97 and 2005 may be underestimated.

For this analysis, body mass index (BMI) for all respondents to the 2005 CCHS was calculated from self-reported height and weight.  However, that survey also collected measured height and weight for a subsample of 4,735 respondents.  According to the self-reported data, 52.8% of respondents were neither overweight nor obese, but based on measured height and weight, just 43.5% were neither overweight nor obese.  Nonetheless, when the analysis was repeated using the subsample of respondents for whom measured height and weight were available, the relationships between activity level and BMI were the same as with self-reported data.