BACKGROUND: Physical activity patterns of a population remain mostly assessed by the questionnaires. However, few physical activity questionnaires have been validated in Asian populations. We previously utilized a combination of different questionnaires to assess leisure time, transportation, occupational and household physical activity in the Singapore Prospective Study Program (SP2). The International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) has been developed for a similar purpose. In this study, we compared estimates from these two questionnaires with an objective measure of physical activity in a multi-ethnic Asian population. METHODS: Physical activity was measured in 152 Chinese, Malay and Asian Indian adults using an accelerometer over five consecutive days, including a weekend. Participants completed both the physical activity questionnaire in SP2 (SP2PAQ) and IPAQ long form. 43 subjects underwent a second set of measurements on average 6 months later to assess reproducibility of the questionnaires and the accelerometer measurements. Spearman correlations were used to evaluate validity and reproducibility and correlations for validity were corrected for within-person variation of accelerometer measurements. Agreement between the questionnaires and the accelerometer measurements was also evaluated using Bland Altman plots. RESULTS: The corrected correlation with accelerometer estimates of energy expenditure from physical activity was better for the SP2PAQ (vigorous activity: r = 0.73; moderate activity: r = 0.27) than for the IPAQ (vigorous activity: r = 0.31; moderate activity: r = 0.15). For moderate activity, the corrected correlation between SP2PAQ and the accelerometer was higher for Chinese (r = 0.38) and Malays (r = 0.57) than for Indians (r = -0.09). Both questionnaires overestimated energy expenditure from physical activity to a greater extent at higher levels of physical activity than at lower levels of physical activity. The reproducibility for moderate activity (accelerometer: r = 0.68; IPAQ: r = 0.58; SP2PAQ: r = 0.55) and vigorous activity (accelerometer: 0.52; IPAQ: r = 0.38; SP2PAQ: r = 0.75) was moderate to high for all instruments. CONCLUSION: The agreement between IPAQ and accelerometer measurements of energy expenditure from physical activity was poor in our Asian study population. The SP2PAQ showed good validity and reproducibility for vigorous activity, but performed less well for moderate activity particularly in Indians. Further effort is needed to develop questionnaires that better capture moderate activity in Asian populations.