Background: The number of people with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes mellitus type 2 (T2DM) is growing rapidly. To a large extend, this increase is due to lifestyle-dependent risk factors, such as overweight, reduced physical activity, and an unhealthy diet. Changing these risk factors has the potential to postpone or prevent the development of T2DM and CVD. It is hypothesized that a cognitive behavioral program (CBP), focused in particular on motivation and self-management in persons who are at high risk for CVD and/or T2DM, will improve their lifestyle behavior and, as a result, will reduce their risk of developing T2DM and CVD. Methods: 12,000 inhabitants, 30-50 years of age living in several municipalities in the semi-rural region of West-Friesland will receive an invitation from their general practitioner (n = 13) to measure their own waist circumference with a tape measure. People with abdominal obesity (male waist ≥ 102 cm, female waist ≥ 88 cm) will be invited to participate in the second step of the screening which includes blood pressure, a blood sample and anthropometric measurements. T2DM and CVD risk scores will then be calculated according to the ARIC and the SCORE formulae, respectively. People with a score that indicates a high risk of developing T2DM and/or CVD will then be randomly assigned to the intervention group (n = 300) or the control group (n = 300). Participants in the intervention group will follow a CBP aimed at modifying their dietary behavior, physical activity, and smoking behavior. The counseling methods that will be used are motivational interviewing (MI) and problem solving treatment (PST), which focus in particular on intrinsic motivation for change and self-management of problems of the participants. The CBP will be provided by trained nurse practitioners in the participant's general practice, and will consists of a maximum of six individual sessions of 30 minutes, followed by 3-monthly booster sessions by phone. Participants in the control group will receive brochures containing health guidelines regarding physical activity and diet, and how to stop smoking. The primary outcome measures will be changes in T2DM and CVD risk scores. Secondary outcome measures will be changes in lifestyle behavior and cost-effectiveness and cost-utility ratios. All relevant direct and indirect costs will be measured, and there will be a follow-up of 24 months. Discussion: Changing behaviors is difficult, requires time, considerable effort and motivation. Combining the two counseling methods MI and PST, followed by booster sessions may result in sustained behavioral change. © 2008 Lakerveld et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.