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The change in human behavior is at the heart of solving global central problems for human well-being, social cohesion, and environmental sustainability. For example, preventing obesity, air pollution and waste of environmental resources and improving cybersecurity and economic stability require behavioral changes at the individual, organizational and population levels.
Obesity, in particular, is one of the main risk factors for health in countries such as the United Kingdom, where 26% of adults and 16% of children are affected by obesity, the rates almost double 25 years. At the same time, purchases of fruits and vegetables have declined dramatically in recent years, making it clear that a change in behavior is urgently needed.
Theories of behavior change offer an idea of how it is possible to achieve a lasting change in the behaviors surrounding a healthy and balanced diet. For example, a well-known method of behavior, the COM-B model suggests that for any behavior to occur, the person who implements it needs to have the psychological and physical capacity to represent the behavior, the physical and social opportunity to do so. and the automatic and reflexive motivation to carry out the behavior in question more than any competing behavior at any given time.
Therefore, for an intervention to successfully change the behavior, one must first understand clearly and precisely why a Given behavior is not currently performed or performed suboptimally. For example, in the context of a healthy diet, it quickly becomes clear that a different approach to behavior change is required if the reason for a person’s poor diet is that this person does not know how to prepare a healthy meal (psychological ability ) compared to whether the same person is not motivated to buy healthy food options instead of unhealthy ones.
To date, most communication campaigns aimed at changing eating behavior have had an educational approach (that is, why you should eat well) or have used “fear appeals” (ie images and texts that evoke emotions negative to encourage behavior change). However, these campaigns are not based on systematic behavior analysis and, therefore, may be less effective.
The approach to behavior change at University College London (UCL) consists of five steps:
First, the objective behavior must be clearly selected and specified. For example, should this behavior be the purchase of healthy food, the preparation of healthy meals or the consumption of food? While these behaviors are clearly related, each has its own driving forces.
The second step involves a diagnosis of behavior, an analysis of barriers and facilitators of objective behavior, in terms of capacity, opportunity, and motivation. For example, why don’t people buy healthy food? Is it too expensive, not offered or are people not aware of their health?
Then, in the third step, the behavior change wheel is used to identify the most appropriate intervention function to target the barriers identified in step two. For example, if the main barrier to the purchase of healthy food is the lack of understanding that it is healthy, then an educational campaign is likely to be more effective.
Once the most appropriate intervention function is selected, intervention designers must choose the precise behavior change techniques and delivery channel (for example, print media, face to face, application) for the intervention.
Finally, the intervention can be administered and, in the fifth step, its effectiveness must be evaluated and, if necessary, refined to further improve the effectiveness. The evidence to date suggests that interventions developed following a theory-based approach, such as the one described above, are more successful in changing behavior than those that were not. the best opportunity to achieve what we need to achieve.