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Kids' Cereal Pour on the Sugar and Sodium

Nanci Hellmich
USA Today
October 25, 2009

A new study confirms what savvy consumers have long suspected: Most breakfast cereals advertised to kids are chock-full of sugar and low in fiber.

Cereals marketed to kids have 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber and 60% more sodium than those aimed at adults, according to the report from Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Researchers there analyzed the content of popular cereals using a nutrient-profiling system and reviewed marketing data. Findings released over the weekend:

  • The least nutritious cereals are often the most heavily marketed to children. Among them: Reese's Puffs, Corn Pops, Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cap'n Crunch.

KELLOGG'S EFFORTS: Company plans to add fiber to its cereals

  • Companies have dropped the average sugar content of kids' cereals from 3½ to 3 teaspoons a serving.
  • The average preschooler sees 642 cereal ads a year on TV. Most are for types with the worst nutrition ratings.
  • Some cereals with the poorest ratings have health claims on the box.

"The worst cereals are being marketed very heavily to children," says Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center. He presents the analysis today in Washington at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society.

But the industry says it already addresses this issue. "Kellogg has a global standard that determines how and what products are marketed to children under 12," says company spokeswoman Kris Charles. Products that didn't meet the criteria either have been reformulated or are no longer marketed to kids under 12, she says.

And General Mills spokeswoman Heidi Geller says kids who eat cereal more frequently, including pre-sweetened cereals, "tend to weigh less than kids who eat cereal less frequently — and they are better nourished."

In a related study, Yale researchers tracked 89 children ages 5 to 12 who made their own breakfasts at summer camps. Kids were given either sweetened cereal or a low-sugar cereal. They could take as much as they wanted of cereal, milk, sugar, orange juice, bananas and strawberries. Results:

  • Kids given the low-sugar cereal ate about one serving, or 1 cup.
  • Those eating the high-sugar type ate two servings, or about 2 cups.
  • Children rated the taste of both types equally high.
  • Kids eating the low-sugar brands added sugar but still ate about half as much sugar and far fewer calories. They were more likely to put fruit on top.

"Part of getting kids to eat more fruit at breakfast is not having it compete with Froot Loops or another high-sugar cereal," says Marlene Schwartz of the Rudd Center.

See the full report at





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