Effects of Health-Based and Appearance-Based Exercise Advertising on Exercise Attitudes, Social Physique Anxiety and Self-Presentation in an Exercise Setting

By Berry, Tanya R.; Howe, Bruce L. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Effects of Health-Based and Appearance-Based Exercise Advertising on Exercise Attitudes, Social Physique Anxiety and Self-Presentation in an Exercise Setting


Berry, Tanya R., Howe, Bruce L., Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


The public sector uses health as the primary motivator in physical activity campaigns whereas the private sector often uses appearance as a motivator, but whether these motivators can be successful in changing physical activity behavior remains to be determined. The purpose of this research was to test the effects of televised health promotion and appearance-based exercise advertising on exercise attitudes, social physique anxiety, and self-presentation. Participants completed pretest questionnaires one week prior to viewing a video that contained health or appearance exercise advertising. They then completed posttest questionnaires. Results showed that health-based advertising had significant positive effects on social physique anxiety and self-presentation for exercisers in the health condition, while appearance-based advertising had negative effects on nonexercisers' attitudes towards exercise.

There are many stakeholders, including governments, public health professionals, gym owners, exercise equipment retailers, and book and video publishers, who want people of all ages and abilities to be active (Brooks, 1998). The public sector promotes physical activity as a way of improving population health, while private industry is interested in continuing its eight billion dollars a year in business (Dishman, 2001). Yet despite the efforts of advertisers, the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute (2001) reported that in the year 2001, 57% of Canadian adults were not active enough to achieve optimal health benefits.

Part of the difficulty for exercise promoters may be that there is no universal motivator that works for all individuals (Buckworth, 2000). Indeed, researchers have identified a number of possible motivators for exercise including health, appearance, weight loss, social support, mood change, stress reduction, competition, and recognition (Davis, Fox, Brewer, & Ratusny, 1995). Despite this range of possibilities, the public sector has focused on health as the primary motivator in their physical activity campaigns - whereas the private sector often uses attractive appearance as a motivator. Although Dishman (2001) has advocated merging health and body image approaches, the effectiveness of health and appearance as motivators remains to be determined.

One appealing aspect of mass media health promotion campaigns is that they can potentially reach a wide audience. However, it is questionable whether these campaigns are genuinely beneficial, and more research should examine them because little is known about the actual health benefits and outcomes (Marcus, Owen, Forsyth, Cavill, & Fridinger, 1998). Indeed, some researchers have shown that media-based health promotion campaigns do little to change exercise behavior (Cavill, 1998; Hillsdon, Cavill, Nanchahal, Diamond, & White, 2001). Similarly, it has been reported that although most health promotion campaigns result in a high recall of messages (on average 70% recall), significant improvements in knowledge are rare and actual changes in behavior seldom occur (Marcus et al., 1998).

Although there is little similar research examining the effects of appearance-based exercise advertising, there is evidence that appearance-based advertising in general can negatively influence body image. The results of a meta-analysis by Groesz, Levine, and Murnen (2002) provided evidence to support the hypothesis that media representations of thin women can negatively influence body image. Further, although body image has been cited as a factor in exercise motivation (Cash, Novy, & Grant, 1994), the link has not yet been made between media representations of exercisers, body image, and subsequent exercise behavior. It may be that such images result in negative feelings regarding exercise, but it is also possible that individuals will be motivated to exercise because appearance is an expected and desired outcome of exercise (Bandura, 1997). …

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