Clusters of adolescent physical activity tracker patterns and their associations with physical activity behaviors in Finland and Ireland: Cross-sectional study

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Abstract

Background: Physical activity trackers (PATs) such as apps and wearable devices (eg, sports watches, heart rate monitors) are increasingly being used by young adolescents. Despite the potential of PATs to help monitor and improve moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) behaviors, there is a lack of research that confirms an association between PAT ownership or use and physical activity behaviors at the population level. Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the ownership and use of PATs in youth and their associations with physical activity behaviors, including daily MVPA, sports club membership, and active travel, in 2 nationally representative samples of young adolescent males and females in Finland and Ireland. Methods: Comparable data were gathered in the 2018 Finnish School-aged Physical Activity (F-SPA 2018, n=3311) and the 2018 Irish Children's Sport Participation and Physical Activity (CSPPA 2018, n=4797) studies. A cluster analysis was performed to obtain the patterns of PAT ownership and usage by adolescents (age, 11-15 years). Four similar clusters were identified across Finnish and Irish adolescents: (1) no PATs, (2) PAT owners, (3) app users, and (4) wearable device users. Adjusted binary logistic regression analyses were used to evaluate how PAT clusters were associated with physical activity behaviors, including daily MVPA, membership of sports clubs, and active travel, after stratification by gender. Results: The proportion of app ownership among Finnish adolescents (2038/3311, 61.6%) was almost double that of their Irish counterparts (1738/4797, 36.2%). Despite these differences, the clustering patterns of PATs were similar between the 2 countries. App users were more likely to take part in daily MVPA (males, odds ratio [OR] 1.27, 95% CI 1.04-1.55; females, OR 1.49, 95% CI 1.20-1.85) and be members of sports clubs (males, OR 1.37, 95% CI 1.15-1.62; females, OR 1.25, 95% CI 1.07-1.50) compared to the no PATs cluster, after adjusting for country, age, family affluence, and disabilities. These associations, after the same adjustments, were even stronger for wearable device users to participate in daily MVPA (males, OR 1.83, 95% CI 1.49-2.23; females, OR 2.25, 95% CI 1.80-2.82) and be members of sports clubs (males, OR 1.88, 95% CI 1.55-2.88; females, OR 2.07, 95% CI 1.71-2.52). Significant associations were observed between male users of wearable devices and taking part in active travel behavior (OR 1.39, 95% CI 1.04-1.86). Conclusions: Although Finnish adolescents report more ownership of PATs than Irish adolescents, the patterns of use and ownership remain similar among the cohorts. The findings of our study show that physical activity behaviors were positively associated with wearable device users and app users. These findings were similar between males and females. Given the cross-sectional nature of this data, the relationship between using apps or wearable devices and enhancing physical activity behaviors requires further investigation.

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Ng, K., Kokko, S., Tammelin, T., Kallio, J., Belton, S., O’Brien, W., … Woods, C. (2020). Clusters of adolescent physical activity tracker patterns and their associations with physical activity behaviors in Finland and Ireland: Cross-sectional study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(9). https://doi.org/10.2196/18509

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