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Evidence, theory and context - using intervention mapping to develop a school-based intervention to prevent obesity in children

Jennifer J Lloyd*, Stuart Logan, Colin J Greaves and Katrina M Wyatt

Author Affiliations

Institute for Health Service Research, Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011, 8:73  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-73

Published: 13 July 2011



Only limited data are available on the development and feasibility piloting of school-based interventions to prevent and reduce obesity in children. Clear documentation of the rationale, process of development and content of such interventions is essential to enable other researchers to understand why interventions succeed or fail.


This paper describes the development of the Healthy Lifestyles Programme (HeLP), a school-based intervention to prevent obesity in children, through the first 4 steps of the Intervention Mapping protocol (IM). The intervention focuses on the following health behaviours, i) reduction of the consumption of sweetened fizzy drinks, ii) increase in the proportion of healthy snacks consumed and iii) reduction of TV viewing and other screen-based activities, within the context of a wider attempt to improve diet and increase physical activity.


Two phases of pilot work demonstrated that the intervention was acceptable and feasible for schools, children and their families and suggested areas for further refinement. Feedback from the first pilot phase suggested that the 9-10 year olds were both receptive to the messages and more able and willing to translate them into possible behaviour changes than older or younger children and engaged their families to the greatest extent. Performance objectives were mapped onto 3 three broad domains of behaviour change objectives - establish motivation, take action and stay motivated - in order to create an intervention that supports and enables behaviour change. Activities include whole school assemblies, parents evenings, sport/dance workshops, classroom based education lessons, interactive drama workshops and goal setting and runs over three school terms.


The Intervention Mapping protocol was a useful tool in developing a feasible, theory based intervention aimed at motivating children and their families to make small sustainable changes to their eating and activity behaviours. Although the process was time consuming, this systematic approach ensures that the behaviour change techniques and delivery methods link directly to the Programme's performance objectives and their associated determinants. This in turn provides a clear framework for process analysis and increases the potential of the intervention to realise the desired outcome of preventing and reducing obesity in children.