NEW research released today by Cancer Council and the National Heart Foundation of Australia shows that Australian teenage boys consume more fast food and snacks high in salt compared with their female peers and are more susceptible to junk food marketing.
Data from the National Secondary Students’ Diet and Activity Survey, being presented at Cancer Council’s Behavioural Research in Cancer Control Conference, showed that teenage boys were more likely to be regular consumers of fast food (46% compared with 34%) and sugary drinks (28% compared with 14%) than girls.
The survey shows boys also consumed salty snacks and fried potato products more often, as well as ice blocks and were more likely to be influenced by multimedia marketing techniques that involved giveaways, competitions or links with movies or sports personalities.
Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee, Kathy Chapman, said teenage boys were more likely to be obese or overweight compared with girls, despite being more physically active.
“A barrage of increasingly sophisticated junk food marketing is undermining teenage boys’ longer-term health, highlighting the urgent need for measures to protect them,” Ms Chapman said.
“Fast food companies invest tens of millions of dollars in advertising during programs watched by teenagers because mass-media advertising works. Fifty-three per cent of teens surveyed said they tried a new drink or food product after they had seen it advertised.”
Mary Barry, CEO, National Heart Foundation, said the research reflected a worrying generational trend.
“We know overweight and obese children are more likely to carry excess weight into adulthood, along with poor eating habits, putting a whole cohort at high risk of a range of diet-related diseases, including heart disease,” Ms Barry said.
“Government investment in public education to encourage healthier eating is a fraction of the ‘pester power’ money food companies pour into influencing teenagers’ food choices.
“This is emphasised by the fact that over 40 per cent of students said they buy an extra food or drink product on display at the supermarket checkout.
“More needs to be done at a national level to help support health groups, parents and schools counteract junk food advertising in order to improve our nation’s future health,” she said.
Ms Chapman said the findings suggested that the current gender health disparity could continue into the future, unless our next generation of men begun to change their eating habits now.
“For years men have had lower life expectancies than women, higher rates of cancer, heart disease and poorer health outcomes, mainly because of lifestyle.
“Parents tell us encouraging healthy eating is increasingly difficult, given the clever, saturation marketing of foods that have no nutritional value and are contributing to alarming levels of body weight among adolescents.
“Our kids are at risk of paying the longer-term price through reduced quality of life and even life expectancy – while the rest of the community pays through increasing health costs,” Ms Chapman said.