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.
As a result of the findings, officials are pushing for a decrease in crap-food TV ads earlier than 9 PM and an increased offering of educational programming. Chapman recommends that the government could increase spending towards campaigns that encourage healthy eating.
Members of the Heart Foundation are also urging that physical education be made mandatory for all schoolchildren, that public education campaigns emphasize the dangers of sitting too much, and that urban planners update walking and bicycling infrastructures to make it easier for Australian citizens to be active.
No word on whether Australian officials were privy to the recent study that found burgers and fries to be just as effective as a post-workout recovery meal than specially formulated sports bars and gels.
But working out—rather than lounging in the plastic booth of a fast-food joint all day—might be the crucial kicker there.