The transtheoretical or 'stages of change' model has greatly influenced health promotion practice in the USA, Australia and the UK since the late 1980s. Application of the model has shaped service planning, provision and implementation. 'Stages of change' also has impacted on training agendas at local, regional and national levels. Associated areas of motivational interviewing and brief intervention have led health promotion initiatives in areas such as smoking cessation and alcohol-reduction policies. A number of critiques have recently challenged the 'stages of change' model and health promotion orthodoxy. This review examines these critiques, with a focus on the 'scientific' status of 'stages of change'. The review also examines a data-based approach to stages of change, model adequacy, the social and ideological context of change theories in health promotion contexts, levels of explanation and prediction in the 'stages of change' framework. Some reasons are offered for the apparent popularity of the model amongst health promotion workers. Recommendations are made about alternative conceptual frameworks.