The Intersection of Public Policy and Health Behavior Theory in the Physical Activity Arena

in Journal of Physical Activity and Health


Policy strategies aimed at modifying aspects of the social, physical, economic, and educational environments have been proposed as potential solutions to the growing problem of physical inactivity. To develop effective physical activity policies in these and other areas, greater understanding of how and why policies successfully impact behavior change is needed.


The current paper proposes a conceptual framework explaining how policy strategies map onto health behavior theoretical variables and processes thought to lead to physical activity change. This framework is used to make hypotheses about the potential effectiveness of different policy strategies.


Health behavior theories suggest that policies providing information may be particularly useful for individuals who are not yet considering or have only recently begun to consider becoming more physically active. Policies that provide opportunities may be less effective for individuals who do not find physical activity to be inherently fun and interesting. Policies that offer incentives or require the behavior may not be particularly useful at promoting long-term changes in physical activity.


Exploring possible connections between policy strategies and theoretical constructs can help to clarify how each approach might work and for whom it may be the most appropriate to implement.

Dunton and Cousineau are with the Dept of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California, Alhambra, CA. Reynolds is with the School of Community and Global Health, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA.

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