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Food compensation: do exercise ads change food intake?

Ellen van Kleef1*, Mitsuru Shimizu2 and Brian Wansink2

Author Affiliations

1 Wageningen University, Marketing and Consumer Behaviour Group, Hollandseweg 1, 6706 KN Wageningen, the Netherlands

2 Cornell University, Food and Brand Lab, 110 Warren Hall, Ithaca NY 14853, USA

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011, 8:6  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-6

Published: 28 January 2011



Past research has shown that promotional messages such as food advertising influence food consumption. However, what has gone largely unexplored is the effect of exercise advertising on food intake. This study experimentally tested the effects of exposure to exercise commercials on food intake at a lunch meal as compared to the effects of control commercials.


Prior to eating lunch, 125 participants (71 women, 54 men) watched 8 commercials, either all related to exercise or fitness (n = 67) or neutral products (i.e. car insurance) (n = 58). The meal consisted of a pasta dish with tomato sauce, salad and chocolate pudding. The post-lunch questionnaire included questions about body mass index, exercise habits, motivation and dietary restraint.


Participants exposed to exercise commercials reduced their caloric intake by 21.7% relative to the control condition. Additionally, watching exercise messages increased the perceived healthiness and liking of the meal. Although exercise habits and intentions did not moderate the effect of commercial condition on food intake, we also found that this intake reduction was driven by participants with higher body mass index levels.


These results imply that exercise messages may serve as a reminder of the link between food and physical activity and affect food consumption. It also highlights the need for increased awareness that these messages have powerful influences not only on exercise behavior, but also on closely related behaviors such as eating.