Teachable Moments: The Key to Behavior Change

Kayla Reynolds

In the sphere of behavior change, there is consensus that education is not enough to change behavior. If knowing “vegetables are good for you” was enough to get people to eat vegetables, we would not have 91.1% of Americans failing to meet the recommended daily vegetable intake.

Some key principles in behavior change models include knowledge, motivation, and self-efficacy, and a number of strategies can be used to achieve these competencies. Behavior change strategies that have been validated in mHealth include structured programs, goal setting, self-monitoring, social support, coaching, and positive reinforcement and feedback as fundamental features in a behavior change model.

Feedback algorithms are regarded as essential components of tech-based weight loss programs to change behavior, improve engagement, and reduce attrition. Noom’s behavior change technology uses in-app prompts to provide users with valuable, real-time feedback about their weight, physical activity, dietary choices.

Specifically, Noom capitalizes on the meal logging feature as an important teachable moment in our users’ healthy lifestyle journeys. The application’s “green, yellow, and red” color system categorizes foods into what to eat more of, what to eat in moderation, and what to limit, based on their calorie- and nutrient-density. The meal logging feature enables users to see the classification of a food before they log, helping guide their food choices. Mostly importantly, after a user logs a meal, they receive a breakdown of their meal, grouping the foods they ate into their respective color. In it’s simplicity, real-time feedback about food choices helps users identify specific areas of their diet they can change to reach their goals and improve their health.

It’s important, but does it work?

Data from several of our pilots show an increase in the amount of more healthful “green” foods (including vegetables and fruits) logged by our users over time. After 3 months, there is more than a 50% increase in the amount of green foods logged. Positive dietary changes are correlated with corresponding increases in weight loss and improved biometric values, including blood pressure and blood glucose.

While the ultimate success of a user is dependent on their willingness and motivation to change, setting each individual up with the knowledge, support, and feedback to support behavior change is essential. Using technology to capitalize on teachable moments in a user’s journey is an effective place to start.