Published in this month's issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the study aimed to examine the influence of sex on dietary trends, eating habits and nutrition beliefs.
According to the research conducted amongst a group of almost 300 college students, young women typically desire to lose weight - and turn to dieting as a way to do so. In comparison, young men are more likely to want to gain weight, and those that do want to lose the extra pounds tend to try to achieve this through exercise rather than dieting.
One of the few published studies that compares diet choices by sex, the new study could provide food and beverage manufacturers with a number of factors to consider when developing new product formulations depending on the consumer base they are targeting.
The research was based on questionnaires completed by 105 men and 181 women at college undergraduate level. Around 55 percent of the men and 77 percent of the women were normal weight; 38 percent of men and 13 percent of women were overweight; 8 percent of men and 3 percent of women were obese; and 7 percent of women were underweight.
Factors determining college students' selection of food included a shortage of time, convenience, cost, taste, health, environment and weight control. They often do not meet dietary recommendations for the consumption of nutrients, and have diets typically high in fat and sodium, and low in fruits and vegetables.
Out of the participants in the study, around 13 percent reported currently being on a diet. Women were far more likely than men to have tried a different variety of diet plans, including Weight Watchers ( 7 percent compared to 1 percent), low-fat diets (19 percent and 8 percent), low-carbohydrate diets (16 percent and 7 percent) and vegetarian diets (4 percent and 0 percent). Some 80 percent of men and 66 percent women reported never having tried a diet.
Only 17 percent of participants said they were pleased with the diets they had tried.
Other significant differences observed between the two sexes were their nutritional beliefs and assessments.
More women than men believed they ate too much sugar (60 percent compared to 42 percent), that it is important to limit carbohydrate consumption (46 percent compared to 28 percent), that it is important to limit the amount of fat consumed to lose weight (72 and 52 percent), and that they need to lose weight (57 and 29 percent).
These findings confirm previous reports revealing that women tend to hold stronger nutritional beliefs than men.
Around 66 percent of participants in the study believed they consumed a healthful diet, although women tended to avoid high-fat foods and consume more fruits and vegetables than men.
But although the nutritional quality of diets may differ by sex, the study revealed no significant difference in the perception of the healthfulness of a diet, with 94 percent of participants agreeing that a healthful diet needs to comprise of a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, and be relatively low in fat.
The researchers, led by Sarah Davy of the University of Nebraska, said the diets of 18-24 year olds is of particular concern because they will soon enter the age range of high chronic disease burden.
They suggested the need for further research, which could be used by dieticians and health professionals to help develop nutrition education materials and diet plans for young adults.