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Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program

Physical Activity Assessment

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Dana Wolff-Hughes, PhD
Program Director, Risk Factor Assessment Branch


Current evidence convincingly indicates that physical activity reduces the risk of bladder, breast, colon, endometrial, esophageal adenocarcinoma, renal, and gastric cancers. Scientists continue to evaluate potential relationships between physical activity and other cancers.

The consistent findings for colon and breast cancer and other sites have led researchers to recommend that individuals increase physical activity to reduce the risk of cancer. However, it is not yet possible to provide a specific activity prescription for the population to prevent cancer.

To better understand the relationship between physical activity and cancer, it is necessary to be able to accurately assess levels and types of activity. This poses a challenge because existing assessment methods are crude and imprecise. In particular, better methods are needed to:

  • assess physical activity from transportation, occupation, and household tasks in addition to that from recreation;
  • assess physical activity over longer time periods, including across the lifetime;
  • assess more completely the frequency, duration, and intensity of physical activity;
  • improve the validity and reliability of physical activity assessment instruments; and
  • incorporate cognitive aspects into the design of assessment instruments.

The Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program (EGRP) supports the collection of physical activity data in existing and planned surveys. In doing so, EGRP is attempting to develop more complete assessments of individuals' physical activity based on information derived from multiple contexts, including transportation, occupation, and recreation.

Funding Opportunities

NCI-sponsored notices of funding opportunities related to physical activity assessment include:

  • Notice of Special Interest: Validation of Digital Health and Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning Tools for Improved Assessment in Biomedical and Behavioral Research - expires July 6, 2025
  • Notice of Special Interest: Developing and Testing Multi-level Physical Activity Interventions to Improve Health and Well-Being – expires November 14, 2027

EGRP joins with other NCI Divisions, Offices, and Centers and other Institutes and Centers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund grant applications submitted in response to funding opportunities.

View All Cancer Control Funding Opportunities

EGRP also encourages investigator-initiated grant applications on topics related to diet and cancer risk and outcomes.

Physical Activity Resources

Selected Projects

Examples of collaborative present and past projects related to physical activity assessment which staff are involved with include:

  • Interactive Diet and Activity Tracking in AARP (IDATA)
    The purpose of the Interactive Diet and Activity Tracking in AARP (IDATA) study was to evaluate and compare the measurement error structure of diet and physical activity assessment tools against reference biomarkers. IDATA data and/or biospecimens are available as public use data, but researchers must submit a project proposal, which are reviewed by NCI.
  • Supporting the use of activity monitors to collect objective physical activity data in large surveys, such as the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). These monitors, which record motion activity as people wear them over several days, circumvent the cognitive and cultural challenges inherent in collecting physical activity data by questionnaire.

Significant past initiatives EGRP has been involved with include:

  • Supported inclusion of a variety of questions related to physical activity and sedentary behavior in the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) Cancer Control Supplement and the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS)External Web Site Policy. These added questions complement the NHIS/CHIS core physical activity questions concerning leisure and transportation walking. The data from these surveys are publicly available and provide a rich resource for exploring the demographic and health related correlates of physical activity in multiple domains.

Public Resources

Workshops and Webinars

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