Nutrition scientists at the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) believe that a key to tackling the nation's obesity epidemic could lie with Aristotle and the phrase ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.  Their announcement is made as health professionals and academics are gathering in London to discuss and debate how to influence positive behaviour change in eating and lifestyle habits, at the BNF’s 45th anniversary conference, being held at the Royal College of Physicians.

A report by independent experts¹, commissioned by the government shows that there are more than one hundred internal and external factors that influence what, how much and how often we eat and exercise and, therefore, how able we are to manage our own weight and health profile.  Research into behaviour change has shown how these internal and external factors can be influenced by interventions2, 3, 4, 5 and, following examination of current scientific research, the BNF’s team believes that the extent to which we are able to successfully maintain a healthy weight is directly, or indirectly, affected by any number of these factors at one time.   The BNF says that people who proactively focus effort on addressing several of these factors simultaneously will have more success in their efforts to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.

Bridget Benelam, senior nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation explained: “We are all very different and the way that we behave in relation to external and internal stimuli varies considerably.   So, what works for some people may not for others.  

“Studies have identified at least 108 different factors that influence our ability to maintain a healthy weight.  So there are lots of different options to choose from in terms of making changes in our behaviour that could have a positive impact on our health.“

The BNF has grouped the different factors identified into seven broad categories: Social, Psychological, Eating and drinking, Physical activity, Environment, Physiology and Media.  

Benelam continued: “Within each of these categories there are multiple influencers and we believe that by proactively selecting a range of these to focus attention on, people can make a series of small changes to their behaviour which, when combined, will have a larger overall effect.  For example, we believe that social engagement can have a positive impact on weight management for some people, as can developing cooking skills, keeping a food or activity diary, spending more time outside, and using the same weekly on-line grocery shopping list.  On the reverse side, we know that always using a car for transport, social isolation, stress and self-criticism, and large portion sizes can have a negative impact on people’s ability to manage their weight.  If everyone were to choose one factor to do more of and one to do less of, from each of the seven influencing categories, we believe they would increase their chances of successful weight loss considerably, while also finding the route to a healthier and more enjoyable lifestyle.”

Based on this theory, The Small Changes: Big Gains chart has been produced by the BNF’s team to help people identify small, positive changes to make in their own behaviour.  While including an hour-long aerobic class in your exercise regime can help you burn off around 400 calories, the BNF’s suggestions for smaller changes include getting up from the TV and doing some housework during the ad breaks, which could help burn up 40 calories per hour of TV viewing; eating fruit instead of biscuits as an afternoon snack to reduce calorie intake by around 50 kcals each day; measuring out small portions of crisps rather than eating straight from the pack, which could lead to you eating up to 130 calories less each time; and if you are an office worker, getting up to talk to a colleague or make a drink at least once each hour, which can use up around 120 calories each day.

BNF’s Small Changes: Big Gains chart is attached below

For further information contact Alison Taylor at [email protected] or 07775 025 452 or Bridget Benelam at [email protected] 07966 032293

1 Foresight (2007) Tackling obesities: future choices – project report (2nd Edition). Government Office for Science
2Gardner B, Cane J, Rumsey N, Michie S (2012) Behaviour change among overweight and socially disadvantaged adults: A longitudinal study of the NHS Health Trainer Service. Psychol Health 30
3Sacher PM, Kolotourou M, Chadwick PM, Cole TJ, Lawson MS, Lucas A, Singhal A (2010). Randomized controlled trial of the MEND program: a family-based community intervention for childhood obesity. Obesity 18 Suppl 1:S62-8
4 J. Stubbs, S. Whybrow, J. Lavin (2010). Dietary and lifestyle measures to enhance satiety and weight control Nutrition Bulletin 35, Issue 2, pages 113–125
5Morrison LG, Yardley L, Powell J, Michie S. (2012) What design features are used in effective e-health interventions? A review using techniques from Critical Interpretive Synthesis. Telemed J E Health. 18(2):137-44.

Notes for Editors:
1. The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) conference Behaviour change in relation to healthier lifestyles is being held in London on 26th June 2012.
2. BNF offers an expert nutrition information service for journalists and media. Tel: 02074046504. Email: [email protected]
3. BNF was established 45 years ago and exists to deliver authoritative, evidence-based information on food and nutrition in the context of health and lifestyle. The Foundation’s work is conducted and communicated through a unique blend of nutrition science, education and media activities. BNF’s strong governance is broad-based but weighted towards the academic community.  BNF is a registered charity that attracts funding from a variety of sources, including contracts with the European Commission, national government departments and agencies; food producers and manufacturers, retailers and food service companies; grant providing bodies, trusts and other charities. Further details about our work, governance and funding can be found on our website ( and in our Annual Reports.
4. The Foundation thanks Slimming World for financial support that has enabled the cost of this event to delegates to be subsidised  

 Click here for the Small Changes Big Gains Chart (small version).

Last reviewed 26/06/2012. Next review due 26/06/2015.