Social ecological approaches to individuals and their contexts: twenty years of health education & behavior health promotion interventions

Health Educ Behav. 2012 Jun;39(3):364-72. doi: 10.1177/1090198111418634. Epub 2012 Jan 20.


Social ecological models that describe the interactive characteristics of individuals and environments that underlie health outcomes have long been recommended to guide public health practice. The extent to which such recommendations have been applied in health promotion interventions, however, is unclear. The authors developed a coding system to identify the ecological levels that health promotion programs target and then applied this system to 157 intervention articles from the past 20 years of Health Education & Behavior. Overall, articles were more likely to describe interventions focused on individual and interpersonal characteristics, rather than institutional, community, or policy factors. Interventions that focused on certain topics (nutrition and physical activity) or occurred in particular settings (schools) more successfully adopted a social ecological approach. Health education theory, research, and training may need to be enhanced to better foster successful efforts to modify social and political environments to improve health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Education*
  • Health Policy
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Social Environment*
  • United States