HUFFINGTON POST
11/03/2011 05:09 pm ET Updated Jan 03, 2012

Teens And Fast Food: My Beef With Pizza Hut And McDonald's

This is a teen-written article from our friends at Teenink.com.

Advertisers are, of necessity, a crafty bunch. They know that almost everything we want in life is owned, controlled, or influenced by someone else. They determine which group to target, what that group needs or thinks it wants, and then they developboth a compelling story and a delivery mechanism to capture our imaginations - and our wallets! The teenage market is, of course, the filet mignon on the advertiser's menu, and one of the most dangerous ploys in his arsenal is the direct campaign for fast food inour fast lives. It's not as if teens are usually bombarded with cool-looking kids eating organic produce and vegetarian dishes. There are no rock 'n' roll icons associated with herbal tea or antibiotic-free eggs. What we as teens should be looking for is the apparently non hyped copy that often differentiates an organic productfrom the teeming masses of toxic food items - an increasingly difficult task with the "in your face" fast-food media deluge.

Let's look at the signs - the neon signs, I mean. Pizza Hut, with cheese everywhere you can hide it, including inside thecrust, has outlets in more than 86 countries. McDonald's has over 26,000 restaurants in 119 countries. Fast food is fast creeping into hospitals, schools, work and home. After all, who can think about clogged arteries and skyrocketing cholesterol when the teens in the ads are the best-looking you've ever seen? Hmmm ... better have more fries. If there is one thing advertisers know, it’s that if people can be made sick or well by mental or visual impressions, they can be influenced to favor a certain brand or type of food the same way; and in some industries, like fast food, image is the best way to win them.

Of course, this advertising extravaganza would not have taken hold had the media gurus not been wise enough to observe the newpace of teenage life: caffeinated, insatiable, and stressed-out. It's a daily existence obviously worthy of the billion-dollar budget fast-food chains spend advertising to us each year. They have devoted countless hours and dollars to learning the impulse eatinghabits of teens. We study more than ever, worry about our futures more than ever, and have less time and inclination for dressing up to go out. Fast food allows us to date on a budget and not have a pre-set time formeals, so catching a burger on an impulse or study break becomes very appealing. Not having to make a lot of menu decisions is also appealing to a teen overwrought with multiple-choice exams, not to mention being able to order, wait only a few minutes and have your food served to you without even getting out of a car.

Our fast food advertisers have brought their "cool" food into our homes and with MTV-style production, we view it as a pop art culture - predictable and comfortable. Remember when a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soupwere considered comfort foods? Well, now it's a double cheeseburger and fries, or a four-cheese pizza and a Coke. Fast food has become as American to teens as pre-washed jeans, and just as ubiquitous. And, two-thirds of fast-food restaurant employees are teenagers. This ruthless movement in teen-media targeting has radically transformed our diets in the most insidiously destructive way.

The major problem with this kind of dietary indulgence for the stressed teen is that high-fat products are becoming a common coping tool. Satisfying momentary cravings or peer pressure with an orgy of high-fat choices leads us into a future of nutritional deficiencies, high cholesterol, and, eventually, heart problems. There is nothing cool or attractive about these results, and frankly, you won't care how popular the food is if you're in a hospital with clogged arteries.

Huge portion sizes, high calorie content, highamounts of refined starch and added sugar, high-fat content and low levels of fiber are all the ingredients one needs to destroy a young body. Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Obesity Program at Children's Hospital in Boston, noted that because of the billions of dollars in advertising targeting a young fast-food audience each year, teens who frequently indulge consume approximately 187 more calories per day. That adds up to about six extra pounds each year. Is it any wonder obesity is on the rise among young people?

How long will it take for our politicians to understand that legislation might be in order to curb the appetite of media's role in fast-food promotion aimed at our nation's teens? If we are the future, then they ought to care.

- Jourdan U., Roslyn Heights, NY

This piece has also been published in Teen Ink's monthly print magazine.

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