Advancing Tailored Health Communication: A Persuasion and Message Effects Perspective


Matthew W. Kreuter; e-mail:


Tailored health communication (THC) is any combination of information and behavior change strategies intended to reach one specific person based on information unique to that person, related to the outcome of interest, and derived from an individual assessment. THCs have been studied as a means to facilitate behavior change by influencing some key intermediate steps that precede the behavioral outcome. These include the extent to which people attend to communications, think about them, find them relevant and salient, and intend to take action. Evidence shows that THCs have achieved modest success in changing a number of cancer-related behaviors, including smoking, diet, exercise, and cancer screening. However, it is likely that THCs could be more effective if they were developed with a greater understanding of message effects and what we refer to as the behavioral pathway. Instead of using unidimensional approaches to influence behavior change, a message effects approach would help researchers identify key leverage points for impact on such intermediate outcomes as persuasion and yielding. Such a strategy also might be used to determine when THCs are the preferred approach and when generic, targeted, or combinations of THCs and targeted communications might be appropriate. Viewing THCs from the perspective of the behavioral pathway might indicate use of different messages, sources, and formats to influence different people at different points on the pathway. We provide a brief history of THCs and suggest how integrating a broader perspective of health behavior and health communication theories could enrich THCs.