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Background: Recent technological advances allow for the repeated sampling of real-time data in natural settings using electronic ecological momentary assessment (eEMA). These advances are particularly meaningful for investigating physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep in young adults who are in a critical life stage for the development of healthy lifestyle behaviors.

Objective: This study aims to describe the use of eEMA methodologies in physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep research in young adults.

Methods: The PubMed, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Embase, and Web of Science electronic databases were searched through August 2022. Inclusion criteria were use of eEMA; sample of young adults aged 18 to 25 years; at least 1 measurement of physical activity, sedentary behavior, or sleep; English language; and a peer-reviewed report of original research. Study reports were excluded if they were abstracts, protocols, or reviews. The risk of bias assessment was conducted using the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Quality Assessment Tool for Observational Cohort and Cross-Sectional Studies. Screening, data extraction, and risk of bias assessments were conducted by independent authors, with discrepancies resolved by consensus. Descriptive statistics and narrative synthesis were used to identify overarching patterns within the following categories guided by the Checklist for Reporting Ecological Momentary Assessments Studies: study characteristics, outcomes and measures, eEMA procedures, and compliance.

Results: The search resulted in 1221 citations with a final sample of 37 reports describing 35 unique studies. Most reports (28/37, 76%) were published in the last 5 years (2017-2022), used observational designs (35/37, 95%), consisted of samples of college students or apprentices (28/35, 80%), and were conducted in the United States (22/37, 60%). The sample sizes ranged from 14 to 1584 young adults. Physical activity was measured more frequently (28/37, 76%) than sleep (16/37, 43%) or sedentary behavior (4/37, 11%). Of the 37 studies, 11 (30%) reports included 2 movement behaviors and no reports included 3 movement behaviors. eEMA was frequently used to measure potential correlates of movement behaviors, such as emotional states or feelings (25/37, 68%), cognitive processes (7/37, 19%), and contextual factors (9/37, 24%). There was wide variability in the implementation and reporting of eEMA procedures, measures, missing data, analysis, and compliance.

Conclusions: The use of eEMA methodologies in physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep research in young adults has greatly increased in recent years; however, reports continue to lack standardized reporting of features unique to the eEMA methodology. Additional areas in need of future research include the use of eEMA with more diverse populations and the incorporation of all 3 movement behaviors within a 24-hour period. The findings are intended to assist investigators in the design, implementation, and reporting of physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep research using eEMA in young adults.


©Kimberly R Hartson, Luz Huntington-Moskos, Clara G Sears, Gina Genova, Cara Mathis, Wessly Ford, Ryan E Rhodes. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (, 29.06.2023.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

Original Publication Information

Hartson, K. R., Huntington-Moskos, L., Sears, C. G., Genova, G., *Mathis, C., *Ford, W., & Rhodes, R. E. (2023). Use of electronic ecological momentary assessment methodologies in physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep research in young adults: A systematic review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 25, e46783.