Pedometers—average Americans and fitness gurus alike are using them to measure and to motivate.  The pocket-size devices are passed out at heart walks, marathons and gyms.  Yes, America is crazed with ensuring they’ve taken the recommended 10,000 steps a day.

But in terms of athletic training research, a pedometer isn’t always the best gauge for physical activity.  Eric Wickel, assistant professor of athletic training at TU School of Nursing, has been using an accelerometer to learn more about activity levels and patterns among children and adolescents.

Unlike a pedometer, an accelerometer measures the intensity of vertical accelerations of the hip.  Attached to a belt and worn at the hip, the pager-sized mechanism has the ability to quantify the intensity of movement over time, not just the movement itself.

Accelerometers allow researchers to collect activity-related data in 5 to 60 second increments over a series of days.  Estimates of moderate or vigorous activity levels can then be predicted using a variety of equations.

“It’s a useful tool to characterize activity levels better than a basic pedometer,”  Wickel said. “Using an objective assessment tool, such as an accelerometer, some of the measurement error associated with subjective tools (e.g., self-report and questionnaires) can potentially be reduced.”

Though the technology has been around for quite some time, its popularity has increased recently and has been used nationwide to examine activity levels.  Wickel has been collecting, researching and analyzing accelerometer data for the past four years, using data assembled from his doctoral research at Iowa State University that measured activity in children ages 9 to 15.

The results will be used to assess the effectiveness of recess, physical education, and other day-to-day activities—numbers that can be problematic with a pedometer.