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Is It Fun or Exercise ? The Framing of Physical Activity Biases Subsequent Snacking

Recherche : nutrition des sportifs et plaisir
Published on
16 June 2015

While the benefits of exercising are widely accepted by consumers and healthcare providers, people who begin an exercise program don't necessarily lose weight. A fact that can be frustrating not only for practitioners, but their coaches and healthcare providers as well. According to this study, simply having fun may be the solution to this discouraging problem.

This article by Carolina Werle is the subject of the 14th GEM LAB Executive Summaries.

Previous research has indicated that individuals tend to compensate their efforts with hedonistic consumption. In the case of physical activity, this translates to unhealthy snacking. The link between physical activity and food consumption has clear implications for obesity prevention and the sector's various players.

Framing : the importance of having fun

From the article

Is it fun or exercise ? The framing of physical activity biases subsequent snacking
Marketing Letters – DOI 10.1007/ s11002-014-9301-6
Carolina O.C. Werle, Brian Wansink, Collin R. Payne, 2014

In light of this licensing effect, or the mechanism in which we allow ourselves a reward for past efforts, the authors of this latest study examined the issue of how we perceive, or frame, our physical activities. Their prediction : Participants would be more likely to serve themselves hedonistic food when physical activity was framed as exercise versus when it was framed as fun.

Three studies to test framing

The first study framed a one-mile walk as an exercise for half the participants and as an mp3 test for the other half. To negate the issue of music being responsible for the participants having fun, the second study asked participants to conduct the same one-mile walk but framed the fun activity as a sightseeing tour. In both cases, participants in the fun activity served themselves less hedonistic food than their exercising counterparts.

Run for fun

The third study asked participants in a race to indicate the level of fun they had experienced during the race and then to choose between a relatively healthy or unhealthy snack. Once again, participants who reported having more fun during the race were less likely to choose the unhealthy option. It is interesting to note that in some cases framing did not necessarily affect a participants' choice between a hedonistic or healthy snack, but did have a noticeable impact on how much unhealthy food participants served themselves.

The results of this study provide the first demonstration of how framing a physical activity influences food consumption. By establishing the importance of framing exercise as fun, the authors provide guidance for public policy on obesity, healthcare providers, fitness and snacking industries, and of course consumers who are looking to lose weight.

Key points

  • Individuals tend to compensate themselves for their previous efforts (licensing effect).
  • Framing exercise as a fun activity noticeably reduces a participants desire for unhealthy food compensation.
  • Reframing physical activity as fun could have an important impact on obesity prevention.