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Children's cereals less healthy


Julie Deardoff

Chicago Tribune
April 25, 2008

One of the best things you can do for your child's health is to ban children's breakfast cereal from your home, according to a new analysis of 161 different brands of these sugar-laden products. Or, let your child eat yours, provided you're not starting the day with Froot Loops.

Breakfast is often described as "the most important meal of the day." And both public health and food industry initiatives are pushing children to consume more cereal, the researchers note in the study published in the journal of the American Dietetic Association.

But if a breakfast cereal is marketed to a child--meaning it contains a licensed character or an activity directed towards kids--it is going to be less healthy than cereals meant for adults, according to lead author Marlene Schwartz, a senior research scientist at Yale University.

Even worse: The most aggressively marketed cereals have the worst nutritional quality.

The researchers found that compared with cereals meant for adults, children's products were high in calories, sugar and sodium, but were low in fiber and protein.

The majority of children's cereals (66 percent) failed to meet national nutritional standards, particularly with respect to sugar content.

Schwartz urges parents to stand their ground when the incessant nagging begins. And look for healthier choices, including cereals containing 4 grams or less of sugar per serving (about one teaspoons), Schwartz told Reuters Health reporter Anne Harding. Aim for 4 grams of fiber per bowl of cereal.

Also remember that health claims made for kids' cereals can be misleading. Even though a cereal may be sold as "low fat" or "low sugar" they aren't necessarily lower in calories, according to Schwartz. And "whole grain" cereals may have more fiber, but they could also have just as much salt, sugar and fat as other brands and the same calorie content, Harding reported.

Oatmeal is also a great alternative. "Researchers have found the cognitive benefits of breakfast consumption were stronger for instant oatmeal than for ready to eat cereals," Schwartz wrote in the study.

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