Challenges to changing health behaviours in developing countries: a critical overview

Soc Sci Med. 2012 Aug;75(4):589-94. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.04.009. Epub 2012 May 11.


This overview of recent research on health behaviour change in developing countries shows progress as well as pitfalls. In order to provide guidance to health and social scientists seeking to change common practices that contribute to illness and death, there needs to be a common approach to developing interventions and evaluating their outcomes. Strategies forming the basis of interventions and programs to change behaviour need to focus on three sources: theories of behaviour change, evidence for the success and failure of past attempts, and an in-depth understanding of one's audience. Common pitfalls are a lack of attention to the wisdom of theories that address strategies of change at the individual, interpersonal, and community levels. Instead, programs are often developed solely from a logic model, formative qualitative research, or a case-control study of determinants. These are relevant, but limited in scope. Also limited is the focus solely on one's specific behaviour; regardless of whether the practice concerns feeding children or seeking skilled birth attendants or using a latrine, commonalities among behaviours allow generalizability. What we aim for is a set of guidelines for best practices in interventions and programs, as well as a metric to assess whether the program includes these practices. Some fields have approached closer to this goal than others. This special issue of behaviour change interventions in developing countries adds to our understanding of where we are now and what we need to do to realize more gains in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Developing Countries*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans