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Your Environment. Your Health.

University of California San Diego

A Tool for Geospatial Analysis of Physical Activity

Kevin Patrick

Project Description


The central role of the place where physical activities are performed is now widely recognized, so it is important to measure both the occurrence and the location of activity. We have developed a Physical Activity and Location Measurement System (PALMS) comprised of an integrated suite of hardware and software. The PALMS system supports real-time capture and subsequent analyses of data on physical activity and energy expenditure (PAEE) from a geospatial perspective. Capability for ecological momentary assessment (EMA) of psychosocial factors related to PAEE context is also included.


Unlike other measurement approaches, PALMS is capable of simultaneously and objectively collecting PAEE by combined heart rate and motion (HR+M) and location by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) data. These objective measures provide significant advantages over currently-available self-reports to help understand relationships between PAEE, the environment, and health-related factors. This project involves an interdisciplinary group of researchers with expertise in physical activity and energy expenditure measurement, active living research, software engineering, wireless sensor networks, cell phone technologies, GPS and geographic information systems (GIS) research and data modeling.


The project is being carried out in four phases:


  • Phase I: Specify, build and bench test the software architecture that supports data collection from both an HR+M monitor and a highly accurate GPS device as well as a cell phone. Develop data-server and web-server software including new application program interfaces as well as methods to integrate into existing well established GIS systems (e.g. ArcGIS).
  • Phase II: Perform usability testing of the portable tool, refine the system and then use it to capture a minimum of 45 person-weeks of combined PAEE, GPS and EMA data among a multiethnic sample (n=45) of adolescents (age 12-20), adults (age 21-59) and older adults (age 60+).
  • Phase III: Use data captured in PHASE II to develop methods of data modeling and analysis appropriate to PAEE and geospatial research. Further improve the tool and software for use in Phase IV and develop User Guide and Web Tutorial for Researchers.
  • Phase IV: Field test the entire system (PAEE, GPS, EMA data collection, supporting server, and web software) in free-living adolescents, adults and older adults (n=45; min. 45 person-weeks) and test the utility of the system as a support to research on geospatial aspects of PAEE.


See this project's publications and patents 

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