Pushing Sugary Cereals on Kids

True story: I’m driving in the car with my 4 year old daughter, Liza, when “Happy Together” by The Turtles’ comes on the radio. I sing, “I can’t see me lovin’ nobody but you. For all my life…When you’re with me, baby the skies’ll be blue. For all my life…” That’s when Liza faces me with puzzled look and says, “But where’s the part about the complete breakfast?” Punk’d! TV advertising to kids! She’s talking about the 1980’s Golden Grahams Cereal Commercial. Golden Grahams, those toasted squares of whole wheat and corn sweetened with honey and brown sugar, with 3.6 teaspoons of sugar in a mere ¼ cup.

The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University recently issued a follow-up to their 2009 report, Cereal FACTS. They found the cereals most aggressive advertized to children rank at the bottom in in terms of nutrition and at the top in added sugars. In 2011, the average 6- to 11-year-old saw more than 700 TV ads for cereals, or almost 2 ads every day, and the preschoolers saw nearly as many. The majority of cereal ads seen by children are for products consisting of one-third or more sugar. A bowl o’ sugar, indeed!

The funny thing is that, in 2009, the big three cereal companies – General Mills, Kellogg and Post – pledged to the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative – the food industry’s self-regulatory program – to improve the nutritional quality of cereals marketed directly to children and to advertise the healthier cereals. Three years later, the companies did improve nutrition somewhat in many kid’s cereals, but total media spending on child-targeted cereals increased by 34% and most ads were for the least nutritious products.

Honestly, people, the food industry is not going to police itself! Vote with your wallet to save you family. Feed kids spoon-size shredded wheat, Cheerios, Kashi Go Lean, oatmeal, and other cereals that are high in fiber but low in sugar, fat and sodium, and free of saturated- and trans-fat. Ideally, one serving of a good cereal will provide no more than 8 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fat, and 140 mg of sodium, but with about 5 grams of fiber and a whole grain listed as the first ingredient. Fortified cereals provide significant nutrients, but fortification does not supply all of the nutrients in whole grains. And remember, cereal is made healthier by adding milk and fruit.

Read a summary of the Yale Rudd Center report, Cereal FACTS 2012: A Spoonful of Progress in a Bowl Full of Unhealthy Marketing to Kids.

Your thoughts: What have you noticed about cereal and kids?