Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Cheap willpower

Losing weight requires an inordinate amount of willpower. That’s why despite heavy our investments in pills, diets, exercise regimes and even the odd psychic, most of us just keep bulking up. By now, over two thirds of Americans are either obese or overweight.

Recent research suggests a simple way to reduce the effort of dieting simply by manipulating one of our favorite pastimes: watching TV.

An experiment by researchers at Cornell University and Wageningen University in the Netherlands found that people exposed to TV commercials about exercise cut back on their intake of calories by more than a fifth, compared to people who didn’t watch the ads. The effect was particularly intense among people “with higher body mass index levels.”

Perhaps this has to do with exercise aversion —watching the commercials reminds us that overindulging will lead to either obesity or sweat. Maybe it just reminds us of the virtues of a slim, athletic lifestyle.

Unfortunately, exposing people to exercise ads is unlikely to work for long. After a few weeks people will probably tune out, disengage from the message and reach for the twinkies. And the new therapy will go the way of every other weight-loss program.

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