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Kids are not little adults: what MET threshold captures sedentary behavior in children?

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The study compares MET-defined cutpoints used to classify sedentary behaviors in children using a simulated free-living design.


A sample of 102 children (54 boys and 48 girls; 7–13 years) completed a set of 12 activities (randomly selected from a pool of 24 activities) in a random order. Activities were predetermined and ranged from sedentary to vigorous intensities. Participant’s energy expenditure was measured using a portable indirect calorimetry system, Oxycon mobile. Measured minute-by-minute VO2 values (i.e., ml/kg/min) were converted to an adult- or child-MET value using the standard 3.5 ml/kg/min or the estimated child resting metabolic rate, respectively. Classification agreement was examined for both the “standard” (1.5 adult-METs) and an “adjusted” (2.0 adult-METs) MET-derived threshold for classifying sedentary behavior. Alternatively, we also tested the classification accuracy of a 1.5 child-MET threshold. Classification accuracy of sedentary activities was evaluated relative to the predetermined intensity categorization using receiver operator characteristic curves.


There were clear improvements in the classification accuracy for sedentary activities when a threshold of 2.0 adult-METs was used instead of 1.5 METs (Se1.5 METs = 4.7 %, Sp1.5 METs = 100.0 %; Se2.0 METs = 36.9 %, Sp2.0 METs = 100.0 %). The use of child-METs while maintaining the 1.5 threshold also resulted in improvements in classification (Se = 45.1 %, Sp = 100.0 %).


Adult-MET thresholds are not appropriate for children when classifying sedentary activities. Classification accuracy for identifying sedentary activities was improved when either an adult-MET of 2.0 or a child-MET of 1.5 was used.

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Area under the curve


Confidence interval


Energy expenditure


Intraclass correlation


Metabolic equivalent


Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity


Oxycon mobile


Physical activity


Resting energy expenditure


Receiver operating characteristic






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No financial disclosures were reported by the authors of this paper. This work was funded by a grant received from the National Institute of Health, reference R01 HL091006.

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Correspondence to Pedro F. Saint-Maurice.

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Communicated by Jean-René Lacour.

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Saint-Maurice, P.F., Kim, Y., Welk, G.J. et al. Kids are not little adults: what MET threshold captures sedentary behavior in children?. Eur J Appl Physiol 116, 29–38 (2016).

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