Parents of teenagers understand just how different teenage boys and girls can be. But regardless of the gender of your teenager, at some point during these important years, we begin to relinquish a small amount of our decision making for them to them. The way they choose to dress and wear their hair come to mind immediately. Their food choices are another area where our teenagers begin to rely on themselves more and more. Even though they may be home for dinner every night, they are all spending more and more time away from us, with their friends at school and sports activities. Regardless of how much we’ve emphasized healthy eating, they have plenty of opportunity to fall in love with junk food. Our teenagers are subjected to a constant barrage of messaging from fast food and junk food on a daily basis.
Despite our knowledge of its scant nutritional value and questionable degree of quality, fast food does have its appeal. When it’s sweet, it’s really sweet; when it’s salty, it’s really salty; when it’s fatty, it’s really fatty; and hey, it’s cheap. We are all born innocent and then learn to love and accept concepts like Fourthmeal and Chicken Fries. Sometimes, it feels like a burger chain or taco stop just “gets you.”
A new survey, however, finds that fast food and junk food marketing is more likely to hit you just right if you’re a “dude”—namely, a teenage boy—than if you’re a young lady. The most recent findings of the Australian national survey of the dietary and behavioral habits of its high schoolers says so, anyway.
The study included data from nearly 9,000 students at 196 different secondary schools gathered in 2012 and 2013, and was released by Australia’s Cancer Council and the National Heart Foundation. Researchers found that 46 percent of the nation’s teenage boys regularly eat fast food, compared to 34 percent of girls, and that 63 percent of the boys often gorged on salty snacks.
But more interesting is the fact that the teenage boys were markedly more susceptible to the allures of junk food advertising that integrated giveaways, contests, or influencers, such as celebrities and pro athletes. Perhaps as a result, the boys were more likely to be overweight or obese than their female counterparts, despite engaging in more sports and other physical activities.
Almost one-third of boys are likely to buy a food or drink if it’s tied to an actor or sports personality that they like, versus just 19 percent of girls, and 40 percent of teenage boys will patronize a fast-food chain if they are offering a special product or giveaway.
This might not come as such a shock to everyone. If anything, it kind of just affirms the archetype of the stoned high school senior whose car floor is littered with stale French fries, or a cluster of chubby 17-year-old gamers eating dollar tacos in their parents’ basement while taking turns playing GTA 5.
But Kathy Chapman, speaking on behalf of the Cancer Council, tells the Australian Associated Press that the huge budgets of fast-food companies are enabling them to thoroughly and knowingly infiltrate the programming primarily watched by teenagers, and that “a barrage of increasingly sophisticated junk food marketing is undermining teenage boys’ longer-term health, highlighting the urgent need for measures to protect them.”
“Mass-media advertising works,” she adds.
But working out—rather than lounging in the plastic booth of a fast-food joint all day—might be the crucial kicker there.
Yes, advertising works. Of course consumers will deny ever being influenced by television, radio, print and the web. But whatever you see, hear, or read is in your mind somewhere and connections are drawn between those ads and your purchases. If you’ve ever taken an eight-year-old to a grocery store, you know it can turn into a series of requests from your child for products they’ve seen advertised. The same is certainly true for teenagers — just in different places, involving different foods and beverages. FoodFacts.com thinks it makes perfect sense that food marketing is affecting boys differently than girls. By the time a girl reaches her teenage years, other forms of marketing have affected her. She’s concerned about her clothes, how they fit and what she looks like. Unfortunately, that can be detrimental in different ways. Teenage boys are always hungry. And without those “girlish” concerns, can become prey to junk food marketing much more easily.
While we can’t be with our teenagers 24/7, we can make sure that when they are at home, we continue to inform and educate them. The habits we instill will make a difference and will help them make healthier choices.