A randomized controlled trial comparing prevention and promotion cognitive strategies in a behavioral weight-loss intervention

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2022 Feb;30(2):347-357. doi: 10.1002/oby.23337. Epub 2021 Dec 23.


Objective: Two approaches may shift attention from short-term rewards to longer-term weight-loss goals: focusing on long-term consequences of unhealthy choices (prevention) or benefits of healthy choices (promotion). This randomized controlled trial tested the impact of prevention- versus promotion-focused strategies in an internet-delivered behavioral weight-loss intervention (iBWL).

Methods: A total of 95 participants with overweight/obesity were randomized to one of three 12-week iBWLs: (1) STANDARD (n = 31), (2) PREVENT (standard iBWL+prevention-focused training; n = 32), or (3) PROMOTE (standard iBWL+promotion-focused training; n = 32). Participants in the two enhanced arms were trained in their assigned strategy, and lessons and weekly feedback featured arm-specific content and reminders.

Results: Intent-to-treat analysis revealed significant differences in weight loss and self-control use at 12 weeks (weight loss p = 0.002, self-control p = 0.0006). PREVENT was associated with 6.6% (±4.5%) weight loss and a 20.3% (±26.5%) increase in self-control, STANDARD and PROMOTE were associated with 4.4% (±4.2%) and 3.1% (±3.1%) weight losses, respectively, and neither STANDARD nor PROMOTE participants exhibited significant changes in self-control. Across arms, increased self-control was associated with greater weight loss (p = 0.0005).

Conclusions: Cognitive strategies to focus on preventing negative consequences of unhealthy choices led to greater weight loss and self-control compared with both standard iBWL and promotion-focused iBWL. Prevention strategies should be given further attention for overweight/obesity treatment.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Overweight* / prevention & control
  • Weight Loss*