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Food Compensation: Do Exercise Ads Change Food Intake?

Van Kleef, Ellen, Mitsuru Shimizu, and Brian Wansink (2011). Food Compensation: Do Exercise Ads Change Food Intake. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 8(6), 661-664. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-8-6.

Physical activity is associated with positive mental health and lower risk of chronic diseases, but the effect of exercise advertising on food intake has gone largely unexplored in past research. We conducted this study to test the effect of exposure to exercise commercials on food intake.

125 undergraduate students were randomly exposed to either eight exercise commercials or eight control commercials that did not relate to food or exercise. Participants filled out a survey of how much they liked the commercials, their mood, and likeliness to go to the gym in the near future. They were then given a lunch of pasta, salad, dessert, and drinks. The amount of food taken and food consumed by each participant were recorded, without their knowledge. Then a second questionnaire was given asking about their liking of the foods, mood, self-esteem, height, and weight and other indicators from several scales.

Our results showed that after watching exercise commercials, participants served themselves less food and ate 21.7% less calories. Those who watched the exercise commercials also reported feeling less relaxed, more athletic, more healthy, and in better shape than those in the control group. Furthermore, watching exercise commercials made participants perceive the lunch as healthier and to like it more. Interestingly, participants with higher BMI showed a more significantly reduced intake after watching exercise commercials.

Results demonstrated that exercise commercials can influence overall food intake, particularly so among overweight individuals. In addition, they provide a starting point for research into the effect of advertising promotion on food consumption, both on the short and long term.