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Methods-Motivational Interviewing Approach for Enhanced Retention and Attendance

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Suboptimal and differential participant engagement in randomized trials-including retention at primary outcome assessments and attendance at intervention sessions-undermines rigor, internal validity, and trial conclusions.


First, this study describes Methods-Motivational Interviewing approach and strategies for implementation. This approach engages potential participants before randomization through interactive, prerequisite orientation sessions that illustrate the scientific rationale behind trial methods in accessible language and use motivational interviewing to diffuse ambivalence about participation. Then, this study examines the potential improvements in retention (proportion of participants assessed at follow-up visits) and attendance (e.g., mean percentage of intervention sessions attended, percentage of participants who attended 0 sessions) in 3 randomized weight-management trials that quickly added prerequisite orientations to their protocols following early signs of suboptimal or differential participant engagement (Supporting Health by Integrating Nutrition and Exercise [2009-2013, n=194]; Get Social [2016-2020, n=217]; GestationaL Weight Gain and Optimal Wellness [2014-2018, n=389]). Using a pre-post analytical design, adjusted estimates from regression models controlling for condition and assessment timepoint (analyses from 2020) are reported.


After adding prerequisite orientations, all 3 trials attained higher participant engagement. Retention at assessments was 11.4% and 17.3% higher (Get Social and Supporting Health by Integrating Nutrition and Exercise, respectively). Mean percentage of attendance at intervention sessions was 8.8% higher (GestationaL Weight Gain and Optimal Wellness), and 10.1% fewer participants attended 0 intervention sessions (Get Social). Descriptively, all the remaining retention and attendance outcomes were consistently higher but were nonsignificant. Across the trials, adding prerequisite orientations did not impact the proportion of eligible participants enrolled or the baseline demographics.


The Methods-Motivational Interviewing approach shows promise for increasing the rigor of randomized trials and is readily adaptable to in-person, webinar, and conference call formats.

Trial registration

All 3 trials are registered at (Supporting Health by Integrating Nutrition and Exercise: NCT00960414; Get Social: NCT02646618; and GestationaL Weight Gain and Optimal Wellness: NCT02130232).

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