By Lisa Baertlein
June 22 U.S. food companies are making breakfast
cereal for children healthier by cutting sugar and adding whole
grains, but they are offseting those benefits by targeting kids
with more ads for their unhealthiest products, according to a
report issued on Friday.
The findings, from the "Cereal Facts" study from Yale
University's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, land amid
growing alarm over diet-related health costs in the United
States - where nearly one-third of U.S. children are overweight
Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center, applauded
recipe tweaks that have improved the nutrition profile of
cereals from companies like Kellogg Co, General Mills Inc
and Post Holdings Inc, but said there is still
ample room for improvement.
"It's not enough and the companies are still using all their
marketing muscle to push their worst cereals on children,"
Spending to promote child-targeted cereals totaled $264
million in 2011, up 33 percent from 2008, according to the
study, which followed up a similar report from three years ago.
The report called out aggressive marketing of cereals like
General Mills' Reese's Puffs, Kellogg's Froot Loops and Post's
Fruity Pebbles to children. It said those brands rank among the
lowest for nutrition and the highest for added sugar.
Regular Cheerios and Frosted Mini-Wheats have some of the
highest nutrition scores, but ads for those products are more
likely to be targeted at adults, the report said.
"Rudd tends to look at the glass half empty. I look at it as
half-full and rising," said Elaine Kolish, director of the
Council of Better Business Bureaus' Children's Food and Beverage
Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), a voluntary self-regulation
program for food marketed to children.
Food and beverage companies in the United States have fended
off government oversight of marketing to children by promising
to police themselves through CFBAI. Participants, including
Kellogg, General Mills and Post, have agreed to adhere to
nutrition criteria for products advertised to children under the
age of 12.
"Changing kids' taste preferences takes time and effort. The
notion that kids could stop eating Froot Loops and go and have
Grape-Nuts, with all due respect to Grape-Nuts, to me is
unrealistic and not practical," Kolish said, referring to the
whole-grain cereal Post cereal promoted by the late Euell
Gibbons, who advocated natural diets in the 1960s.
Before CFBAI was founded, some cereals had 15 to 16 grams of
sugar per serving. Now, she said, most have no more than 10
grams of sugar -- or about 2.5 teaspoons -- per serving.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than half
of discretionary calories come from added sugars.
Based on that AHA guideline and data from the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, inactive to moderately active young
children, on average, should consume no more than 20 grams of
added sugar per day, the report's authors said.
They added that their own research showed that children, on
average, consume twice the indicated serving of breakfast
"Before they leave the house in the morning, children eating
these presweetened cereals will have consumed as much sugar as
they should eat in an entire day," they said.