Modern activity trackers, including the Fitbit Zip, enable the measurement of both the step count as well as physical activity (PA) intensities. However, there is a need for field-based validation studies in a variety of populations before using trackers for research. Therefore, the purpose of the current study was to investigate the validity of Fitbit Zip step count, moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and sedentary minutes, in different school segments in 3rd grade students.
Third grade students (N = 147, aged 9–10 years) wore a Fitbit Zip and an ActiGraph GT3x-BT accelerometer simultaneously on a belt for five days during school hours. The number of steps, minutes of MVPA and sedentary time during class time, physical education lessons and recess were extracted from both devices using time filters, based on the information from school time tables obtained from class teachers. The validity of the Fitbit Zip in different school segments was assessed using Bland-Altman analysis and Spearman’s correlation.
There was a strong correlation in the number of steps in all in-school segments between the two devices (r = 0.85–0.96, P < 0.001). The Fitbit Zip overestimated the number of steps in all segments, with the greatest overestimation being present in physical education lessons (345 steps). As for PA intensities, the agreement between the two devices in physical education and recess was moderate for MVPA minutes (r = 0.56 and r = 0.72, P < 0.001, respectively) and strong for sedentary time (r = 0.85 and r = 0.87, P < 0.001, respectively). During class time, the correlation was weak for MVPA minutes (r = 0.24, P < 0.001) and moderate for sedentary time (r = 0.57, P < 0.001). For total in-school time, the correlation between the two devices was strong for steps (r = 0.98, P < 0.001), MVPA (r = 0.80, P < 0.001) and sedentary time (r = 0.94, P < 0.001).
In general, the Fitbit Zip can be considered a relatively accurate device for measuring the number of steps, MVPA and sedentary time in students in a school-setting. However, in segments where sedentary time dominates (e.g. academic classes), a research-grade accelerometer should be preferred.