Pass the Cookies, I Just Saw a Gym Ad!

Club operators beware—your last ad campaign could've promoted binge eating instead of working out! A new University of Illinois study finds that campaigns designed to promote exercise actually may prompt people to eat more — can you say reverse psychology?

Study participants who viewed posters urging them to “join a gym” or “take a walk” ate about one-third more than people who viewed signs urging them to “make friends” or “be in a group.”

Researchers also showed some study participants subliminal words about being active. That group ate 20 percent more than people who were exposed to more neutral subliminal words.

Dolores Albarracin, psychology professor and lead researcher, notes that public health officials often design an ad campaign with a single outcome in mind, without realizing that multiple behaviors may be affected.

She attributes the increased eating to compensatory behavior and “metabolic mechanisms triggered by physical activity."

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