The existing literature suggests that theories and models can serve as valuable frameworks for the design and evaluation of health interventions. However, evidence on the use of theories and models in social marketing interventions is sparse. The purpose of this systematic review is to identify to what extent papers about social marketing health interventions report using theory, which theories are most commonly used, and how theory was used. A systematic search was conducted for articles that reported social marketing interventions for the prevention or management of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, HIV, STDs, and tobacco use, and behaviors related to reproductive health, physical activity, nutrition, and smoking cessation. Articles were published in English, after 1990, reported an evaluation, and met the 6 social marketing benchmarks criteria (behavior change, consumer research, segmentation and targeting, exchange, competition and marketing mix). Twenty-four articles, describing 17 interventions, met the inclusion criteria. Of these 17 interventions, 8 reported using theory and 7 stated how it was used. The transtheoretical model/stages of change was used more often than other theories. Findings highlight an ongoing lack of use or underreporting of the use of theory in social marketing campaigns and reinforce the call to action for applying and reporting theory to guide and evaluate interventions.
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