To determine the efficacy of behavior change techniques applied in dietary and physical activity intervention studies, it is first necessary to record and describe techniques that have been used during such interventions. Published frameworks used in dietary and smoking cessation interventions undergo continuous development, and most are not adapted for Web-based delivery. The Food4Me study (N=1607) provided the opportunity to use existing frameworks to describe standardized Web-based techniques employed in a large-scale, internet-based intervention to change dietary behavior and physical activity.
The aims of this study were (1) to describe techniques embedded in the Food4Me study design and explain the selection rationale and (2) to demonstrate the use of behavior change technique taxonomies, develop standard operating procedures for training, and identify strengths and limitations of the Food4Me framework that will inform its use in future studies.
The 6-month randomized controlled trial took place simultaneously in seven European countries, with participants receiving one of four levels of personalized advice (generalized, intake-based, intake+phenotype–based, and intake+phenotype+gene–based). A three-phase approach was taken: (1) existing taxonomies were reviewed and techniques were identified a priori for possible inclusion in the Food4Me study, (2) a standard operating procedure was developed to maintain consistency in the use of methods and techniques across research centers, and (3) the Food4Me behavior change technique framework was reviewed and updated post intervention. An analysis of excluded techniques was also conducted.
Of 46 techniques identified a priori as being applicable to Food4Me, 17 were embedded in the intervention design; 11 were from a dietary taxonomy, and 6 from a smoking cessation taxonomy. In addition, the four-category smoking cessation framework structure was adopted for clarity of communication. Smoking cessation texts were adapted for dietary use where necessary. A posteriori, a further 9 techniques were included. Examination of excluded items highlighted the distinction between techniques considered appropriate for face-to-face versus internet-based delivery.
The use of existing taxonomies facilitated the description and standardization of techniques used in Food4Me. We recommend that for complex studies of this nature, technique analysis should be conducted a priori to develop standardized procedures and training and reviewed a posteriori to audit the techniques actually adopted. The present framework description makes a valuable contribution to future systematic reviews and meta-analyses that explore technique efficacy and underlying psychological constructs. This was a novel application of the behavior change taxonomies and was the first internet-based personalized nutrition intervention to use such a framework remotely.
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01530139; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01530139 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6y8XYUft1)