,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 15 May 2014

Is it fun or exercise? The framing of physical activity biases subsequent snacking

Abstract

Do consumers eat more when they exercise more? If so, the implications could ripple through the multi-billion dollar fitness and food industries and have implications for both consumers and health-care providers. Three studies—two field experiments and one observational field study—triangulate on this potential compensatory mechanism between physical activity and food intake. The findings showed that when physical activity was perceived as fun (e.g., when it is labeled as a scenic walk rather than an exercise walk), people subsequently consume less dessert at mealtime and consume fewer hedonic snacks. A final observational field study during a competitive race showed that the more fun people rated the race as being, the less likely they were to compensate with a hedonic snack afterwards. Engaging in a physical activity seems to trigger the search for reward when individuals perceive it as exercise but not when they perceive it as fun. Key implications for the fitness industry and for health-care professionals are detailed along with the simple advice to consumers to make certain they make their physical activity routine fun in order to avoid compensation.