Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Attitudes, norms and controls influencing lifestyle risk factor management in general practice

Amanda J Ampt12, Cheryl Amoroso1, Mark F Harris1*, Suzanne H McKenzie3, Vanessa K Rose34 and Jane R Taggart1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia

2 Rural Clinical School (Sydney Campus), University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia

3 School of Public Health & Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia

4 School of Biomedical and Health Sciences, University of Western Sydney, Campbelltown, NSW Australia

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BMC Family Practice 2009, 10:59  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-59

Published: 26 August 2009



With increasing rates of chronic disease associated with lifestyle behavioural risk factors, there is urgent need for intervention strategies in primary health care. Currently there is a gap in the knowledge of factors that influence the delivery of preventive strategies by General Practitioners (GPs) around interventions for smoking, nutrition, alcohol consumption and physical activity (SNAP). This qualitative study explores the delivery of lifestyle behavioural risk factor screening and management by GPs within a 45–49 year old health check consultation. The aims of this research are to identify the influences affecting GPs' choosing to screen and choosing to manage SNAP lifestyle risk factors, as well as identify influences on screening and management when multiple SNAP factors exist.


A total of 29 audio-taped interviews were conducted with 15 GPs and one practice nurse over two stages. Transcripts from the interviews were thematically analysed, and a model of influencing factors on preventive care behaviour was developed using the Theory of Planned Behaviour as a structural framework.


GPs felt that assessing smoking status was straightforward, however some found assessing alcohol intake only possible during a formal health check. Diet and physical activity were often inferred from appearance, only being assessed if the patient was overweight. The frequency and thoroughness of assessment were influenced by the GPs' personal interests and perceived congruence with their role, the level of risk to the patient, the capacity of the practice and availability of time. All GPs considered advising and educating patients part of their professional responsibility. However their attempts to motivate patients were influenced by perceptions of their own effectiveness, with smoking causing the most frustration. Active follow-up and referral of patients appeared to depend on the GPs' orientation to preventive care, the patient's motivation, and cost and accessibility of services to patients.


General practitioner attitudes, normative influences from both patients and the profession, and perceived external control factors (time, cost, availability and practice capacity) all influence management of behavioural risk factors. Provider education, community awareness raising, support and capacity building may improve the uptake of lifestyle modification interventions.