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Suffering snacks! Pot Noodle boy turns out to be a girl

She's aged between 16 and 21, spends long hours working or studying, and hates cooking and washing up. She is also the biggest weekly consumer of Pot Noodles, according to the first academic study into pot snacks.

First launched 25 years ago in Lancashire, Pot Noodles are currently selling at an estimated five and a half pots a second - the biggest fans include stars such as David Beckham, Noel Gallagher and Gareth Gates.

But the brand is so popular among students that Unilever, its manufacturer, now has more than 50 student brand managers at universities across the country, promoting the snack in a variety of ways - including pot noodle evenings on campus.

The greatest fanbase, the report says, is among young women aged between 16 and 21, and that is in spite of such seemingly sexist advertising campaigns as "Pot Noodle - the Slag of All Snacks".

"Analysis ... revealed that more females than males consume snack pots several times a week,'' concludes the report, published in the British Food Journal.

The report was carried out by researchers at Manchester Metropolitan and Nottingham universities, and the researchers claim that the market for this type of food has thrived on a number of changes in society, including increased numbers of working women and reduced household sizes.

Consumers of some of the lesser-known brands were almost all women. Seven out of 10 people opting for Tastebreaks were women or girls, as were 100 per cent of Snackstop consumers. Women were also much more likely to opt for rice pot snacks, and a new type of Pot Noodle - Posh Noodle - is expected to increase the appeal among women.

"Convenience is the main asset," says the report. "There is very little preparation and clearing up, therefore reducing the time it takes to complete the mealtime experience."

Such convenience is of particular appeal to students, say the researchers. As the number of people entering full-time education has increased by 62 per cent in the last decade, it's perhaps not surprising that noodle consumption has also increased.

While conducting the study, researchers questioned a number of groups, including students and shoppers in Manchester, and civil servants in Wrexham.

Asked their opinions about the nutritional content of pot snacks, 31 per cent said they had too many additives, and one in 10 people considered them junk food. One in 100, however, bought a pot snack because they wanted "a nutritious meal".

One self-confessed Pot Noodle addict is Helen Nesbitt, a 22-year-old from Fulham, south-west London. She eats a Pot Noodle for her main evening meal at least four times a week - as well as for "a couple of lunches".

"I guess it's a bit of a hangover from my university days, but basically I just really like Pot Noodles," says Ms Nesbitt, a visual effects artist at a film production company.

"I'm always very busy at work, and I don't have much time, so they're just perfect. They're quick and easy, and they only cost about 75p, so it's much cheaper than going to somewhere like Prêt à Manger for a sandwich.

"I tend to buy them in bulk and I keep a stash of them around my desk. My colleagues can't believe how much I love them - they call me 'The Pot Noodle Girl'."

Ms Nesbitt says she isn't worried that some might view her diet as slightly unhealthy.

"I'm too young to worry about whether they're healthy or not," she says. "At weekends I don't tend to have them, especially if I go home, because my mum feeds me properly."

Ms Nesbitt isn't surprised that Pot Noodles are so popular with young women.

"Girls don't want fast food in terms of burgers and greasy stuff," she says. "Pot Noodles are a meal in themselves, they're cheaper and they're a bit more sensible."