State of the evidence regarding behavior change theories and strategies in nutrition counseling to facilitate health and food behavior change

J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Jun;110(6):879-91. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.021.


Behavior change theories and models, validated within the field of dietetics, offer systematic explanations for nutrition-related behavior change. They are integral to the nutrition care process, guiding nutrition assessment, intervention, and outcome evaluation. The American Dietetic Association Evidence Analysis Library Nutrition Counseling Workgroup conducted a systematic review of peer-reviewed literature related to behavior change theories and strategies used in nutrition counseling. Two hundred fourteen articles were reviewed between July 2007 and March 2008, and 87 studies met the inclusion criteria. The workgroup systematically evaluated these articles and formulated conclusion statements and grades based upon the available evidence. Strong evidence exists to support the use of a combination of behavioral theory and cognitive behavioral theory, the foundation for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in facilitating modification of targeted dietary habits, weight, and cardiovascular and diabetes risk factors. Evidence is particularly strong in patients with type 2 diabetes receiving intensive, intermediate-duration (6 to 12 months) CBT, and long-term (>12 months duration) CBT targeting prevention or delay in onset of type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Few studies have assessed the application of the transtheoretical model on nutrition-related behavior change. Little research was available documenting the effectiveness of nutrition counseling utilizing social cognitive theory. Motivational interviewing was shown to be a highly effective counseling strategy, particularly when combined with CBT. Strong evidence substantiates the effectiveness of self-monitoring and meal replacements and/or structured meal plans. Compelling evidence exists to demonstrate that financial reward strategies are not effective. Goal setting, problem solving, and social support are effective strategies, but additional research is needed in more diverse populations. Routine documentation and evaluation of the effectiveness of behavior change theories and models applied to nutrition care interventions are recommended.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Counseling / methods*
  • Dietetics / methods*
  • Dietetics / standards*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care