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Am J Prev Med. 2002 Apr;22(3):200-7.

Are biomarkers useful treatment aids for promoting health behavior change? An empirical review.

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Center for Health Studies, Group Health Cooperative, Seattle, Washington 98101, USA.



Nearly half of the leading causes of death in our society are attributable to behavioral risk factors. As such, it is critical that we continue to develop and refine effective interventions for health behavior change. Some researchers have suggested that using biomarkers to educate individuals about their health status and disease risk may be an effective strategy to promote behavior change. This tactic is also commonly employed by healthcare providers, but its empirical support is unclear. This article reviews the research literature to determine the effectiveness of using biomarker feedback to motivate and enable health behavior change. Potential limitations of this treatment strategy and issues requiring additional research are also discussed.


Articles were identified through PubMed (MEDLINE), PsychInfo, and the reference lists of pertinent manuscripts and book chapters.


Eight published, randomized trials were identified that met criteria for review. The results of this work were mixed, but suggest that biological information conveying harm exposure, disease risk, or impaired physical functioning may increase motivation to change. Subsequent behavior change is also affected by the availability and intensity of concomitant treatment.


Preliminary findings suggest that combining biomarkers with appropriate behavioral treatment may enhance health behavior change, but more research in this area is warranted.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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