Health Campaigns Promoting Exercise may Make us Eat More

Messages from health campaigns promoting exercise seem to make us eat more. Research results, published in the journal Obesity, show that some health campaigns, such as posters saying, “Join a gym”, have the opposite effect on healthy behavior. According to the study, people who looked at health posters promoting exercise actually ate more, rather than exercising.

Psychology professor Dolores Albarracín looked at the how direct messages from health campaigns may make people eat rather than exercise. Direct health messages may subliminally have the opposite effect. The study may be important for delivering motivational health campaigns.

The study builds on previous research that shows exercise campaigns can produce the opposite behaviors of the intended message. People who viewed posters saying, “Join a gym”, or “Take a walk” ate more food compared to those who viewed posters that said, “Make friends” or “join a group”, shown by Dr. Albarracín’s study.

The findings show that exercise campaigns may subliminally deliver negative messages that are of no value for promoting health. Albarracín says, individuals who looked at exercise messages …”ate one-third more when exposed to the exercise ads," whereas neutral ads did not provoke more eating.

Exercise campaigns are …”likely to influence …other behaviors that might be somewhat remotely linked," says Albarracín. The research shows that viewing posters designed to promote exercise led to more eating.

The University of Illinois study reveals that telling people to exercise more may have an opposite effect. Direct messages that tell us to exercise, or join a gym, seem to make us eat more, rather than exercise more.

Promoting healthy lifestyles may not be as easy as simply telling people what they already know. In this instance, the study showed that messages promoting exercise led people to eat more food.