Periodic prompts and reminders in health promotion and health behavior interventions: Systematic review

Jillian P. Fry, Roni A. Neff

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

270 Scopus citations


Background: Health behavior interventions using periodic prompts have utilized technology, such as the Internet, that allows messages to be sent to participants in cost-effective ways. To our knowledge, no comprehensive evidence review has been performed specifically to evaluate the effectiveness of communicating regular messages and to examine how characteristics of the prompts change the effectiveness of programs aimed at reminding people to adopt healthy behaviors, maintain those they already practice, and cease unhealthy behaviors. Objective: A systematic literature review was performed to investigate the effectiveness of limited contact interventions targeting weight loss, physical activity, and/or diet that provided periodic prompts regarding behavior change for health promotion. The review sought to identify specific characteristics of these interventions that may be associated with superior results. Methods: Electronic literature searches were performed between February and April, 2008. Articles were included if periodic prompts were used as an intervention or a component of an intervention, a behavioral or biological outcome measure was used, and an ongoing health promotion behavior was targeted. A rating system was applied to each study to provide a quantitative representation of the quality of the evidence provided by each article. Results: There were 19 articles with a combined sample size of 15,655 that met the inclusion criteria, and 11 studies reported positive findings regarding the utility of periodic prompts. Several articles showed enhanced effectiveness when prompts were frequent and personal contact with a counselor was included. Long-term behavior change and health improvements were not examined by this review because of a lack of long-term follow-up in the literature. Conclusions: In light of promising results of most studies, additional research on limited contact interventions targeting health behaviors including weight loss, physical activity, and/or diet is merited that utilizes rigorous methods including control groups; follow-up data collection; and testing of prompt frequencies, specific intervention components, or prompt characteristics. Future research would be especially valuable if it improves understanding of the most effective types of periodic prompts for fostering long-term behavior change in order to maximize use of this tool in limited contact health promotion programs. Specifically, various types of communication technology should be used and evaluated to expand and refine their use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere16
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009


  • Behavior change
  • Limited contact intervention
  • Prompt
  • eHealth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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