Translating social ecological theory into guidelines for community health promotion

Am J Health Promot. 1996 Mar-Apr;10(4):282-98. doi: 10.4278/0890-1171-10.4.282.


Health promotion programs often lack a clearly specified theoretical foundation or are based on narrowly conceived conceptual models. For example, lifestyle modification programs typically emphasize individually focused behavior change strategies, while neglecting the environmental underpinnings of health and illness. This article compares three distinct, yet complementary, theoretical perspectives on health promotion: behavioral change, environmental enhancement, and social ecological models. Key strengths and limitations of each perspective are examined, and core principles of social ecological theory are used to derive practical guidelines for designing and evaluating community health promotion programs. Directions for future health promotion research are discussed, including studies examining the role of intermediaries (e.g., corporate decision-makers, legislators) in promoting the well-being of others, and those evaluating the duration and scope of intervention outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ecology*
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Promotion / methods
  • Health Promotion / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Primary Prevention
  • Public Health
  • Social Change
  • Social Environment*