28 March 2017
This systematic review aims to explain the heterogeneity in results of interventions to promote physical activity and healthy eating for overweight and obese adults, by exploring the differential effects of behaviour change techniques (BCTs) and other intervention characteristics.
The inclusion criteria specified RCTs with ≥ 12 weeks’ duration, from January 2007 to October 2014, for adults (mean age ≥ 40 years, mean BMI ≥ 30). Primary outcomes were measures of healthy diet or physical activity. Two reviewers rated study quality, coded the BCTs, and collected outcome results at short (≤6 months) and long term (≥12 months). Meta-analyses and meta-regressions were used to estimate effect sizes (ES), heterogeneity indices (I 2) and regression coefficients.
We included 48 studies containing a total of 82 outcome reports. The 32 long term reports had an overall ES = 0.24 with 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.15 to 0.33 and I 2 = 59.4%. The 50 short term reports had an ES = 0.37 with 95% CI: 0.26 to 0.48, and I 2 = 71.3%. The number of BCTs unique to the intervention group, and the BCTs goal setting and self-monitoring of behaviour predicted the effect at short and long term. The total number of BCTs in both intervention arms and using the BCTs goal setting of outcome, feedback on outcome of behaviour, implementing graded tasks, and adding objects to the environment, e.g. using a step counter, significantly predicted the effect at long term. Setting a goal for change; and the presence of reporting bias independently explained 58.8% of inter-study variation at short term. Autonomy supportive and person-centred methods as in Motivational Interviewing, the BCTs goal setting of behaviour, and receiving feedback on the outcome of behaviour, explained all of the between study variations in effects at long term.
There are similarities, but also differences in effective BCTs promoting change in healthy eating and physical activity and BCTs supporting maintenance of change. The results support the use of goal setting and self-monitoring of behaviour when counselling overweight and obese adults. Several other BCTs as well as the use of a person-centred and autonomy supportive counselling approach seem important in order to maintain behaviour over time.