Regulatory focus theory proposes two self-regulatory systems: promotion focus—related to fulfilling aspirations and maximizing positive outcomes—and prevention focus—related to fulfilling responsibilities and avoiding negative outcomes. Building on research demonstrating associations between regulatory focus and weight outcomes, a proof-of-concept weight control intervention framed intervention procedures in terms of promotion or prevention focus and descriptively examined whether the impact of the intervention conditions depended on dispositional regulatory focus.
After random assignment to control (received pamphlet on diet and physical activity), promotion, or prevention conditions (1.5-hour baseline sessions; detailed manuals; 1-hour sessions at 3 months), community participants from a metropolitan area in the United States (N = 57; age M = 40; BMI M = 30.9) completed the Regulatory Focus Questionnaire and were weighed at baseline, 3 months, and 6 months. Longitudinal analysis was conducted with SAS Proc Mixed using restricted maximum likelihood estimation.
Estimated weight change was -2.99 kg, 95% CI [-4.65, -1.32], in the promotion condition, -1.70 kg, 95% CI [-3.29, -0.12], in the prevention condition, and -0.18 kg, 95% CI [-1.42, 1.05], in the control condition. Exploratory analyses revealed that for relatively more promotion-focused participants, estimated weight change was -1.43 kg, 95% CI [-3.38, 0.51], in the promotion condition, +0.48 kg, 95% CI [-1.01, 1.97], in the prevention condition, and -1.09 kg, 95% CI [-2.32, 0.14], in the control condition. For relatively more prevention-focused participants, estimated weight change was -5.19 kg, 95% CI [-7.14, -3.25], in the promotion condition, -3.35 kg, 95% CI [-4.83, -1.86], in the prevention condition, and +0.42 kg, 95% CI [-0.81, 1.65], in the control condition.
Results suggest that self-directed, promotion-focused interventions may be effective and that tailoring to self-regulatory dispositions may not be of additional benefit in initiating weight loss.