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Health promotion theories and models

There are a number of significant theories and models that underpin the practice of health promotion. It would be useful to make a differentiation between theories and models.

The following information has been adapted from Theory at a glance. A guide for health promotion practice. (Second edition). (US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 2005.) For further information go to
  • An integrated set of propositions that serves as an explanation for a phenomenon
  • Introduced after a phenomenon has already revealed a systematic set of uniformities
  • A systematic arrangement of fundamental principles that provide a basis for explaining certain happenings of life
Examples: Social Cognitive Theory, Theory of Planned Behaviour
  • A subclass of a theory. It provides a plan for investigating and or addressing a phenomenon
  • Does not attempt to explain the processes underlying learning, but only to represent them
  • Provides the vehicle for applying the theories
Examples: Health Belief Model, Transtheoretical Model
The main models and theories utilised can be summarised as follows:
1. Those theories that attempt to explain health behaviour and health behaviour change by focusing on the individual.
Examples include:
  • Health Belief Model
  • Theory of Reasoned Action
  • Transtheoretical (stages of change ) Model
  • Social Learning Theory
2. Theories that explain change in communities and community action for health.
Examples include:
  • Community mobilisation
    • social planning
    • social action
    • community development
  • Diffusion of innovation
3. Models that explain changes in organisations and the creation of health- supportive organisational practices.
Examples include:
Theories of organisational change

Summary of Theories: Focus and Key Concepts

white square Theory Focus Key concepts
Individual Level Stages of Change Model Individual's readiness to change or attempt to change toward healthy behaviours Precontemplation
white square Health Belief Model Person's perception of the threat of a health problem and the appraisal of recommended behaviour(s) for preventing or managing the problem Perceived susceptibility
Perceived severity
Perceived benefits of action
Cues to action
Interpersonal Level Social Learning Theory Behaviour is explained via a 3-way, dynamic reciprocal theory in which personal factors, environmental influences and behaviour continually interact Behaviour capability
Reciprocal determinism
Observational learning
Community Level Community Organisation Theories Emphasises active participation and development of communities that can better evaluate and solve health and social problems Empowerment
Community competence
Participation and relevance
Issue selection
Critical consciousness
white square Organisational Change Theory Concerns processes and strategies for increasing the chances that healthy policies and programmes will be adopted and maintained in formal organisations Problem definition (awareness stage)
Initiation of action (adoption stage)
Implementation of change
Institutionalisation of change
white square Diffusion of Innovations Theory Addresses how new ideas, products and social practices spread within a society or from one society to another Relative advantage

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