Exercise Advertisements Make You Eat More

By Gerry Pugliese

I guess it’s an oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp” or “yeah-no.” But to make America’s obesity problems even worse, our own fitness ads have turned against us!

Now, it’s not nearly as bad as Skynet becoming self aware, but it isn’t good either. Researchers from the University of Illinois claim after being exposed to advertisements promoting exercise, people actually experience an increase in appetite and eat more. Published in the journal Obesity, the first study involved 53 college students asked to look at a series of posters from an exercise campaign.

Then at a different time, they were asked to judge a similar series of posters not involving exercise and just like trained monkeys, or just college students, they were promised a few raisins afterward.

After looking at the exercise posters, students ate about 18 calories, but after the non-exercise posters they only consumed 12 calories of raisins.

In another test, 51 college students were told they would be participating in a computerized hand-eye coordination test, each were randomly assigned to action worlds like “active” or a neutral words such as “moon.” But this time students were promised foods like peanuts, raisins and M&M’s. Hooray, nom-noms!

Data revealed results similar to the first test. Students exposed to action words ate more goodies than those assigned neutral words. Students were not asked to dance beside an organ grinder for feed pellets.

Lead author and a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Dolores Albarracin, suggests simply plastering walls with these sorts of advertising campaigns aren’t effective; The New York Times reports.

I don’t know about advertisements, but when I get back from the gym, especially after a vigorous workout, like running or Ashtanga Yoga, I tear through a bunch of bananas like a rabid silverback gorilla, sans organ grinder.


  1. Spectra

    Ha, maybe the folks at Wheaties were onto something by putting athletes on their boxes of cereal…maybe it got people to eat more of it, lol. Well, 5 calories’ worth more, anyways.

  2. Cari from ditch diets

    I don’t think it’s uncommon for people to think – I’ve exercised, now I can’t reward myself for being ‘good’… but just looking at an advertisment???? Can’t say I’ve ever noticed this myself… but hey maybe it’s part of guilt eating: thinking I should be exericising, but I ain’t…..

  3. DaleK

    I saw a reference to this last week and it left me scratching my head then. Nothing’s changed. I’d like to see the actual study. I can’t believe this got published – makes me think there must be more to it?

    And what was the point in promising them food?

    Language, spoken or thought, is powerful no doubt. It doesn’t surprise me that appetite might increase after thinking about activity AND being told they are getting M&Ms. I’d be hungry too!!!!

    And how many times have I overheard, “I can’t go to McDs now because I just worked out!” Suggest exercise and people think it means it’s OK to eat.

    I understand the relevance of this to anything given the minuscule difference in consumption. It’s barely measurable?? I’m quite baffled! I was just reading an article today over at ACE talking about how insignificant the increase in metabolism is with increased LBM – which is something around 30 cals per pound of muscle.

    They should compare it with how much more people eat after they see a Nutrisystem commercial, or Pizza Hut or something.

  4. Jo

    I just came off the superfoodsplan.com diet and it was tough at first but I got through it ok having now lost 10 pounds in 9 weeks.

    The one thing i didn’t like at first was having to do some form of exercise, but there is a great section in the plan that talks about exercise promoting the development of certain cells that can influence how long you live. There is back-up material to real scientific references (not just the internet phd’s you can get). What is clear to me is that exercise is so important to healthy living and to diet that we should not let people poke fun at it. we should applaud thos that encourage it or try to find ways to encrouage it. We were not designed to sit infront of the tv!

  5. Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach


    Ummm, okay.

    I have never noticed an increased desire to eat when looking at exercise ads…I’m too busy trying to pick out the “buying the dream” aspects of them (caught a great one on the SlimShooters today).

    Data points, Barbara

  6. Free Diet Plans

    LOL, re: sans the organ grinder. Thanks for the laugh, I agree with Fit Dad, I think they are reaching with the 5 calorie difference.

  7. Amy Lundberg

    Wow, interesting study. Just another obstacle to overcome in the quest for being fit.

  8. Fit. J

    Interesting, so couple this with the fact that there are a boat load ads for food itself, and you have a double whammy?!

    So is it the actual, visual exercise promoting ad itself or just the “action” words? Or is this some kind of deadly combination that me and my readers need to be aware of?

    I think I’m reading too much into this. I want my nom-nom! =P

  9. The Fit Dad

    Anybody else see a problem with offering food to college students in exchange for looking at an advertisement?

    When I was in college, I would’ve eaten damn near anything you put in front of me no matter what you showed me.

    Plus..18 calories versus 12 calories? Is that really enough to give the impression that the ads make people eat more?

    I think they’re reaching just a little too far with this one.