Health policy papers disseminate recommendations and guidelines for the development and implementation of health promotion interventions. Such documents have rarely been investigated with regard to their assumed mechanisms of action for changing behaviour. The Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF) and Behaviour Change Techniques (BCT) Taxonomy have been used to code behaviour change intervention descriptions, but to our knowledge such “retrofitting” of policy papers has not previously been reported. This study aims first to identify targets, mediators, and change strategies for physical activity (PA) and nutrition behaviour change in Finnish policy papers on workplace health promotion, and second to assess the suitability of the Behaviour Change Wheel (BCW) approach for this purpose.
We searched all national-level health policy papers effectual in Finland in August 2016 focusing on the promotion of PA and/or healthy nutrition in the workplace context (n = 6). Policy recommendations targeting employees’ nutrition and PA including sedentary behaviour (SB) were coded using BCW, TDF, and BCT Taxonomy.
A total of 125 recommendations were coded in the six policy papers, and in two additional documents referenced by them. Psychological capability, physical opportunity, and social opportunity were frequently identified (22%, 31%, and 24%, respectively), whereas physical capability was almost completely absent (1%). Three TDF domains (knowledge, skills, and social influence) were observed in all papers. Multiple intervention functions and BCTs were identified in all papers but several recommendations were too vague to be coded reliably. Influencing individuals (46%) and changing the physical environment (44%) were recommended more frequently than influencing the social environment (10%).
The BCW approach appeared to be useful for analysing the content of health policy papers. Paying more attention to underlying assumptions regarding behavioural change processes may help to identify neglected aspects in current policy, and to develop interventions based on recommendations, thus helping to increase the impact of policy papers.