OBJECTIVES: Describe the development of a questionnaire to assess past year physical activity, including activities of daily living, in a multi-ethnic/racial cohort. Describe energy expenditure (EE) patterns in the sample used for questionnaire development. METHODS: 24-hour activity recalls were collected from a convenience sample (N = 367) at four New York City health agencies (October 1999-February 2000). EE was determined at the population, subgroup, and individual level. EE distributions were compared. RESULTS: Activities identified were similar to those on established questionnaires. Subgroup and individual EE differences were noted. Median EE at the Chinese and Puerto Rican sites were lower than those at the Caribbean or Dominican sites. No clear age pattern was apparent. Overall, a greater percentage of daily EE was spent in low intensity activities. The resultant 30-minute interviewer-administered questionnaire ascertains patterns (frequency and duration) of domain-specific (recreational, household, occupational, and transportation) activity. This information combined with published intensity levels provides summary EE measures. CONCLUSION: Variation in EE levels requires information on activity type and amount. Summary activity measures can be used to rank individuals analogous to nutrient food frequency measures.