Are dietary interventions with a behaviour change theoretical framework effective in changing dietary patterns? A systematic review

Deirdre Timlin, JM McCormack, Maeve Kerr, Laura Keaver, Liz Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
73 Downloads (Pure)


Background: The term ‘whole dietary pattern’ can be defined as the quantity, frequency, variety and combination of different foods and drinks typically consumed and a growing body of research supports the role of whole dietary patterns in influencing the risk of non-communicable diseases. For example, the ‘Mediterranean diet’, which compared to the typical Western diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and oily fish, is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Social Cognition Models provide a basis for understanding the determinants of behaviour and are made up of behavioural constructs that interventions target to change dietary behaviour. The aim of this systematic review was to provide a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness and use of psychological theory in dietary interventions that promote a whole dietary pattern. Methods: We undertook a systematic review using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis to synthesize quantitative research studies found in Embase, Medline, PsycInfo, CINAHL and Web of Science. The studies included were randomised and non-randomised trials published in English, involving the implementation of a whole dietary pattern using a Social Cognition Model to facilitate this. Two independent reviewers searched the articles and extracted data from the articles. The quality of the articles was evaluated using Black and Down quality checklist and Theory Coding Scheme. Results: Nine intervention studies met the criteria for inclusion. Data from studies reporting on individual food group scores indicated that dietary scores improved for at least one food group. Overall, studies reported a moderate application of the theory coding scheme, with poor reporting on fidelity. Conclusion: To our knowledge, this is the first review to investigate psychological theory driven interventions to promote whole dietary patterns. This review found mixed results for the effectiveness of using psychological theory to promote whole dietary pattern consumption. However, the studies in this review scored mostly moderate on the theory coding scheme suggesting studies are not rigorously applying theory to intervention design. Few studies reported high on treatment fidelity, therefore, translation of research interventions into practice may further impact on effectiveness of intervention. Further research is needed to identify which behaviour change theory and techniques are most salient in dietary interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1857
Pages (from-to)1857
JournalBiomed Central public health
Issue number1
Early online date3 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 3 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Dr. Lynn Dunwoody and Joan Atkins for providing support and necessary information for the systematic review. No funding was provided for this systematic review.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Psychological theory
  • theory coding scheme
  • whole dietary patterns


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