Using the Behavior Change Wheel to Understand University Students’ Prolonged Sitting Time and Identify Potential Intervention Strategies



Several national public health guidelines recommend individuals to minimize time spent in prolonged, continuous periods of sitting. Developing effective interventions to break up sitting, however, requires in-depth understanding of the behavior as well as identification of the key elements that need to be targeted to achieve change. This qualitative study focused on university students—a highly sedentary group—with the aim of the following: (i) exploring the factors influencing prolonged sitting time in this population; and (ii) identifying potential avenues for future intervention, based on the Behavior Change Wheel framework.


Eighteen ambulatory undergraduate students participated in semi-structured one-on-one interviews, using the Capability, Opportunity, Motivation, Behavior (COM-B) model and the complementary Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF) as the theoretical framework. Data were analyzed using a directed content analysis approach, followed by inductive thematic analysis.


All COM-B components and eight TDF domains were identified as relevant for influencing the target behavior.


Findings suggest that interventions and policies aimed at reducing prolonged sitting time in university students should (i) raise awareness about negative health implications; (ii) address productivity concerns; (iii) provide training in behavioral self-regulation; (iv) use external reminders; (v) implement habit formation techniques; and (vi) promote social acceptability for breaking up sitting.

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The authors thank all students who volunteered to participate in the study.


OC was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Scheme scholarship and fee offset program.

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Correspondence to Oscar Castro.

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Castro, O., Vergeer, I., Bennie, J. et al. Using the Behavior Change Wheel to Understand University Students’ Prolonged Sitting Time and Identify Potential Intervention Strategies. Int.J. Behav. Med. 28, 360–371 (2021).

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  • College students
  • Sedentary behavior
  • Sedentary time
  • Intervention mapping
  • Implementation research