Successful nutritional behavior change: How to achieve?

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Nutrition and lifestyle are the bases for protecting and sustain good health. It is very important to develop and maintain adequate, balanced eating habits in the early stages of life. Eating habits gained in childhood and adolescence and continued into the later years, thus affecting quality of life and health.

Many methods of gaining healthy nutritional behavior or changing previous habits have been studied for their efficacy. It is important for individuals to be physically and psychologically motivated to leave old habits and acquire new ones. In other words, a person needs to have the physical and psychological capability to apply the change in behavior.

In order to be successful in changing behaviors, people need to understand why he/she has not previously attempted to develop or could not maintain new habits. When explaining the importance of changing nutritional behavior, generally the importance of adequate and balanced nutrition and health risks of an unbalanced nutrition are explained. It is a matter of debate whether nutritional behaviors can be changed by simply presenting information to the individual. Research suggests that approaches based on a theory-driven approach and cause-effect relationship are more successful. The theory-driven approach and five-step behavior change developed by the University College London (UCL) stands out as a method that considers the individual's readiness and motivation. In that method;

1. The first step of this method is determining and clearly explaining to the individual, “What behaviors should to be changed or left?”. For example, does this behavior involve changing the choice of food, preparing healthy meals or changing the food consumed all together? Define “Why certain behavior changes should be targeted?”. Although food habits are interrelated, each has a different effect.

2. The second step is to evaluate the individual's physical and psychological readiness to gain a target behavior and what those barriers and facilitators are. For example, why does the individual make poor food choices? Is the individual hampered for economic reasons? Does he/she does not have enough knowledge about the effects of food on health?

3. The third step is determining the most suitable method of appropriate intervention to targets in step two. For example, education is a good approach if the main obstacle is the individual's lack of knowledge about nutrition effects on health.

4. Once the appropriate intervention method is selected, the next step is determining the best approach for the individual. For example, does he/she prefer face-to-face meetings or group training? Written and/or verbal communication?

5. Implementation should not be carried out without determining the best approach. Following implementation, evaluate its effectiveness in terms of behavior change and further development.

Research suggests that interventions based on a theory-driven approach are more successful changing behavior. Although these cause-effect relationship-based approaches seem complicated at first glance, they may have a significant impact on achieving successful behavior change at both individual and social levels.

1. EUFIC. Achievıng Successful Behaviour Change
2. Michie, et al. (2011). The behaviour change wheel: a new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions. Implementation Science 6:42

This article is translated from EUFIC publication on “Achieving successful behaviour change” ( ) by Sabri Ülker Foundation.

Sabri Ülker Foundation