What are the benefits of ‘goal-setting’ for people with diabetes?

Researchers from Ireland have examined the effectiveness of goal-setting interventions in a systematic review and meta-analysis. 

By Dr Adriana Ventura


Changing behaviour to improve health outcomes is challenging for most people. Goal setting is one of the strategies people can use to help them identify the behaviour to change, and how to do it. For people with diabetes, goal-setting techniques are frequently included in self-management interventions and structured diabetes education programs. Despite this, there is limited evidence about the effectiveness of goal setting as a primary intervention strategy to promote optimal diabetes self-management; nor we do we know which specific techniques are most effective. Researchers from the Health Behaviour Change Research Group in Galway (Ireland) aimed to assess the effectiveness of goal-setting interventions on clinical, health and psychosocial or behavioural outcomes in adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. They also aimed to identify which techniques are most frequently used and most effective.

Using a systematic approach, the researchers identified 12 interventions that used goal-setting techniques as the primary intervention strategy to improve health and behavioural outcomes in people with diabetes. They found an effect for HbA1c, suggesting that goal-setting interventions may be a beneficial strategy for improving glycaemic outcomes.

The authors note that their findings need to be considered with caution, as the review has several limitations, including: the low number of studies identified; the small average decrease in HbA1c; and use of single group pre-/post-test findings. Further, the authors could not draw conclusions about the effect of goal setting on psychosocial or behavioural outcomes due to the low number of studies reporting on these issues.

The specific strategy known as ‘goal setting (behaviour)’ emerged as the most frequently reported technique. This includes setting or agreeing a goal with a person in terms of behaviour to be achieved, and is a way of breaking down large, complex goals into specific, measurable tasks. This may have contributed to the positive effect on HbA1c. Therefore, this may be a useful strategy for health professionals to bear in mind when helping people with diabetes to set goals.


To read the full article:

Fredrix M, McSharry J, Flannery C, Dinneen S, Byrne M. Goal-setting in diabetes self-management: A systematic review and meta-analysis examining content and effectiveness of goal-setting interventions. Psychology & Health, 2018. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2018.1432760


To read more about this topic, check out this previous blog.