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Predicting short-term weight loss using four leading health behavior change theories

António L Palmeira12*, Pedro J Teixeira1, Teresa L Branco1, Sandra S Martins1, Cláudia S Minderico1, José T Barata1, Sidónio O Serpa1 and Luís B Sardinha1

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Human Movement, Technical University of Lisbon, Estrada da Costa, 1495-688, Cruz-Quebrada, Portugal

2 University Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias, Campo Grande, 1749-028, Lisbon, Portugal

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2007, 4:14  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-4-14

Published: 20 April 2007



This study was conceived to analyze how exercise and weight management psychosocial variables, derived from several health behavior change theories, predict weight change in a short-term intervention. The theories under analysis were the Social Cognitive Theory, the Transtheoretical Model, the Theory of Planned Behavior, and Self-Determination Theory.


Subjects were 142 overweight and obese women (BMI = 30.2 ± 3.7 kg/m2; age = 38.3 ± 5.8y), participating in a 16-week University-based weight control program. Body weight and a comprehensive psychometric battery were assessed at baseline and at program's end.


Weight decreased significantly (-3.6 ± 3.4%, p < .001) but with great individual variability. Both exercise and weight management psychosocial variables improved during the intervention, with exercise-related variables showing the greatest effect sizes. Weight change was significantly predicted by each of the models under analysis, particularly those including self-efficacy. Bivariate and multivariate analyses results showed that change in variables related to weight management had a stronger predictive power than exercise-specific predictors and that change in weight management self-efficacy was the strongest individual correlate (p < .05). Among exercise predictors, with the exception of self-efficacy, importance/effort and intrinsic motivation towards exercise were the stronger predictors of weight reduction (p < .05).


The present models were able to predict 20–30% of variance in short-term weight loss and changes in weight management self-efficacy accounted for a large share of the predictive power. As expected from previous studies, exercise variables were only moderately associated with short-term outcomes; they are expected to play a larger explanatory role in longer-term results.