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J Med Internet Res. 2011 Mar 4;13(1):e27. doi: 10.2196/jmir.1614.

Web-based guide to health: relationship of theoretical variables to change in physical activity, nutrition and weight at 16-months.

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  • 1Center for Research in Health Behavior, Department of Psychology, Virginia Tech, Blackburg, VA 24060, USA.



Evaluation of online health interventions should investigate the function of theoretical mechanisms of behavior change in this new milieu.


To expand our understanding of how Web-based interventions influence behavior, we examined how changes at 6 months in participants' psychosocial characteristics contributed to improvements at 16 months in nutrition, physical activity (PA), and weight management as a result of the online, social cognitive theory (SCT)-based Guide to Health intervention (WB-GTH).


We conducted recruitment, enrollment, and assessments online with 272 of 655 (41.5%) participants enrolling in WB-GTH who also completed 6- and 16-month follow-up assessments. Participants' mean age was 43.68 years, 86% were female, 92% were white, mean education was 17.45 years, median income was US $85,000, 84% were overweight or obese, and 73% were inactive. Participants received one of two equally effective versions of WB-GTH. Structural equation analysis of theoretical models evaluated whether psychosocial constructs targeted by WB-GTH contributed to observed health behavior changes.


The longitudinal model provided good fit to the data (root mean square error of approximation <.05). Participants' weight loss at 16 months was predicted by improvements in their PA (beta(total) = -.34, P = .01), consumption of fruits and vegetables (F&V) (beta(total) = -.20, P = .03) and calorie intake (beta(total) = .15, P = .04). Improvements at 6 months in PA self-efficacy (beta(total) = -.10, P = .03), PA self-regulation (beta(total) = -.15, P = .01), nutrition social support (beta(total) = -.08, P = .03), and nutrition outcome expectations (beta(total) = .08, P = .03) also contributed to weight loss. WB-GTH users with increased social support (beta(total) = .26, P = .04), self-efficacy (beta(total) = .30, P = .01), and self-regulation (beta(total) = .45, P = .004) also exhibited improved PA levels. Decreased fat and sugar consumption followed improved social support (beta(total) = -.10, P = .02), outcome expectations (beta(total) = .15, P = .007), and self-regulation (beta(total) = -.14, P = .008). Decreased calorie intake followed increased social support (beta(total) = -.30, P < .001). Increased F&V intake followed improved self-efficacy (beta(total) = .20, P = .01), outcome expectations (beta(total) = -.29, P = .002), and self-regulation (beta(total) = .27, P = .009). Theorized indirect effects within SCT variables were also supported.


The WB-GTH influenced behavior and weight loss in a manner largely consistent with SCT. Improving social support, self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and self-regulation, in varying combinations, led to healthier diet and exercise habits and concomitant weight loss. High initial levels of self-efficacy may be characteristic of Web-health users interested in online interventions and may alter the function of SCT in these programs. Researchers may find that, although increased self-efficacy enhances program outcomes, participants whose self-efficacy is tempered by online interventions may still benefit.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: NCT00128570; (Archived by WebCite at

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