Motivational interviewing to support modifiable risk factor change in individuals at increased risk of cardiovascular disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis

PLoS One. 2020 Nov 11;15(11):e0241193. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0241193. eCollection 2020.


Background: Programmes using motivational interviewing show potential in facilitating lifestyle change, however this has not been well established and explored in individuals at risk of, yet without symptomatic pre-existent cardiovascular disease. The objective of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to determine the effectiveness of motivational interviewing in supporting modifiable risk factor change in individuals at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Methods: Systematic review and meta-analysis with results were reported using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses statement. Health-related databases were searched for randomised controlled trials from 1980 to March 2020. Criteria for inclusion included; preventive programmes, motivational interviewing principles, modification of cardiovascular risk factors in adults of both genders, different ethnicities and employment status, and having at least 1 or more modifiable cardiovascular risk factor/s. Two reviewers independently extracted data and conducted a quality appraisal of eligible studies using an adapted Cochrane framework. The Cochrane framework supports to systematically identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets the pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific question.

Findings: A total of 12 studies met the inclusion criteria. While completeness of intervention reporting was found to be adequate, the application of motivational interviewing was found to be insufficiently reported across all studies (mean overall reporting rate; 68%, 26% respectively). No statistical difference between groups in smoking status and physical activity was reported. A random effects analysis from 4 studies was conducted, this determined a synthesized estimate for standardised mean difference in weight of -2.00kg (95% CI -3.31 to -0.69 kg; p = 0.003), with high statistical heterogeneity. Pooled results from 4 studies determined a mean difference in LDL-c of -0.14mmol/l (5.414mg/dl), which was non-significant. The characteristics of interventions more likely to be effective were identified as: use of a blended approach delivered by a nurse expert in motivational interviewing from an outpatient-clinic. The application of affirmation, compassion and evocation, use of open questions, summarising, listening, supporting and raising ambivalence, combining education and barrier change identification with goal setting are also important intervention characteristics.

Conclusions: While motivational interviewing may support individuals to modify their cardiovascular risk through lifestyle change, the effectiveness of this approach remains uncertain. The strengths and limitations of motivational interviewing need to be further explored through robust studies.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / blood
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Healthy Lifestyle / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / blood
  • Motivational Interviewing*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Triglycerides / blood


  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • Triglycerides
  • Cholesterol

Grants and funding

This study was part of a funded PhD programme by the University of Malta. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.