Goal setting as a health behavior change strategy in overweight and obese adults: a systematic literature review examining intervention components

Patient Educ Couns. 2012 Apr;87(1):32-42. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2011.07.018. Epub 2011 Aug 17.


Objective: This paper describes goal setting components used for behavior change specific to diet and physical activity in community-based interventions targeting overweight and obese adults.

Methods: A systematic literature review was conducted. Studies were evaluated using the S.T.A.R.T. (Specificity, Timing, Acquisition, Rewards and feedback, and Tools) criteria which were developed for the purposes of this paper in order to elucidate which intervention features elicit optimal health behavior outcomes.

Results: Eighteen studies were included. Based on the S.T.A.R.T. criteria, it was determined that developing specific goals that are in close proximity, involve the participant in acquisition, and incorporate regular feedback, are common features in this context.

Conclusion: Goal setting can be useful for effecting health behavior changes in this population. However, as different intervention components were often implemented concurrently (e.g., education sessions, self-monitoring records), it was not possible to ascertain which were responsible for positive changes independently.

Practice implications: Goal setting shows promise as a tool that can be incorporated into weight reduction programs by health care professionals and researchers. Studies are warranted to identify the specific mechanisms through which individuals with overweight or obesity can apply the S.T.A.R.T. criteria with respect to goal setting for the purposes of weight loss.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet*
  • Goals*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Overweight / prevention & control*
  • Overweight / psychology*
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Risk Reduction Behavior