Watch Exercise, Gain Weight

'Get Fit' Ad Campaigns Makes People Eat More

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We’re a country that loves to chow down on chips and salsa while we watch other people suffer physically on reality TV shows like “The Biggest Loser” or “American Gladiator.” In fact, we’re hopeless: New research shows that ad campaigns designed to get us off our couches and into spandex have a perverse opposite effect – they actually cause us to eat more rather than less.

Bizarre but true: Looking at “get fit” ads makes us consume more calories. In a recent study published in the journal of Obesity, college students shown exercise ads or control ads and then immediately asked to taste and rate raisins. Participants who viewed the exercise ads ate an average of 18 calories while those who viewed the control ads that did not promote exercise ate only 12 calories.

Even looking at words loosely related to exercise like “active,” “go,” or “motivation” caused students to eat more calories, says study leader and psychology professor Dolores Albarracin of the University of Illinois. These types of word are often used in exercise campaigns to promote healthy lifestyles, but in reality they aren’t making anyone put down that extra French fry in the cafeteria.

“We have to chose where to present these ads,” Albarracin tells BACKPACKER. “If people have potato chips in their hands they are not going to go exercise, we have to present these ads in places where exercise is relevant, otherwise its not successful.”

Part of the problem is that most of us make vague goals to be more active, says Albarracin. Eating is an action, too, but it’s probably not what most people meant when they set their New Year’s resolutions a few months ago.

“Goals that aren’t specific don’t elicit the desired effect,” says Albarracin.

Researchers haven’t identified solutions yet, but perhaps ads should just focus on getting people outside and leave the fitness part to the terrain (you’ll find loads of hikes in almost every state on BACKPACKER’s Destinations page.

OK, all this talk about fitness is making me crave some serious comida. Time to grab a snack.

– Joanna L. Nasar

Image Credit: Sanchom via flickr