BACKGROUND: Obesity remains a primary threat to the health of most Americans, with over 66% considered overweight or obese with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 kg/m2 or greater. A common treatment option many believe to be effective, and therefore turn to, is exercise. However, the amount of weight loss from exercise training is often disappointingly less than expected with greater amounts of exercise not always promoting greater weight loss. Increases in energy intake have been prescribed as the primary reason for this lack of weight loss success with exercise. Research has mostly focused on alterations in hormonal mediators of appetite (e.g.: ghrelin, peptide YY, GLP-1, pancreatic polypeptide, and leptin) that may increase hunger and/or reduce satiety to promote greater energy intake with exercise training. A less understood mechanism that may be working to increase energy intake with exercise is reward-driven feeding, a strong predictor of energy intake and weight status but rarely analyzed in the context of exercise.

DESIGN: Sedentary men and women (BMI: 25-35 kg/m2, N = 52) were randomized into parallel aerobic exercise training groups partaking in either two or six exercise sessions/week, or sedentary control for 12 weeks.

METHODS: The reinforcing value of food was measured by an operant responding progressive ratio schedule task (the behavioral choice task) to determine how much work participants were willing to perform for access to a healthy food option relative to a less healthy food option before and after the exercise intervention. Body composition and resting energy expenditure were assessed via DXA and indirect calorimetry, respectively, at baseline and post testing.

RESULTS: Changes in fat-free mass predicted the change in total amount of operant responding for food (healthy and unhealthy). There were no correlations between changes in the reinforcing value of one type of food (healthy vs unhealthy) to changes in body composition.

CONCLUSION: In support of previous work, reductions in fat-free mass resulting from an aerobic exercise intervention aimed at weight loss plays an important role in energy balance regulation by increasing operant responding for food.

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Notes/Citation Information

Published in PLOS ONE, v. 15, no. 6, 0234692, p. 1-17.

© 2020 Flack et al.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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Funding Information

The project described was supported by the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences through grant number UL1TR001998.

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All data is available on figshare, DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.12081624.

The data file is also available as an additional file listed at the end of this record.

12081624.zip (115 kB)
SPSS master file https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.12081624.v1

pone.0234692.s001.pdf (57 kB)
S1 Checklist. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234692.s001

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S1 File. PARQ, physical activity readiness questionnaire. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234692.s002

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S2 File. Healthy history questionnaire. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234692.s003

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S3 File. VAS scales, visual analog scales. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234692.s004

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S4 File. Liking of food. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234692.s005

pone.0234692.s006.pdf (1935 kB)
S5 File. Study protocol. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234692.s006

pone.0234692.s007.pdf (202 kB)
S6 File. Simple histogram for delta PmaxTotal. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234692.s007