Many have heard the expression – “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” It’s a common phrase expressing the importance of properly fueling your body to prepare for the day ahead. Although breakfast proves to be a necessity, a common breakfast food marketed to children (cereal) appears to be decreasing in nutritional value. A recent report from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Cereal F.A.C.T.S 2012, indicates that the cereals most often marketed to children have the least nutritional value and the promises made by the cereal companies to decrease their advertising to children have not been kept.
An earlier study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity in 2009, showed that children were not starting off the day right if they were eating common cereals marketed to them. The nutritional content of these cereals was much worse than cereal marketed to adults. The 2009 Yale Rudd study found that cereal marketed to children had 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber, and 60% more sodium than products marketed to adults. Not a single cereal could be included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Woman, Infants and Children (WIC) food program due to the cereals’ lack of nutritional value.
With about one out of every three children being obese, the last thing that children need is more temptation to consume high amounts of sugar. After the release of the 2009 Yale Rudd report, cereal companies made numerous promises to alter the amount of sugar in their cereals, increase the quality of their products, and reduce the amount of advertising of the unhealthy cereals targeted to children.
Unfortunately, the promises made by cereal companies to boost the level of nutrition have not been met. According to the 2012 Yale Rudd report, despite the promises, many cereal companies marketing to children failed to make much improvement in the quality of their cereals and some even declined in nutritional quality. Post Cereal brands increased its level of sugar, reduced the amount of fiber, and had a lower nutritional score than in 2008.
Despite many of these cereal companies joining the 2006 Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), which sought to reduce the direct advertising of these low nutrition cereals to children, the Yale Rudd report showed that cereal companies continue to market their least nutritious cereals to children. In addition, not only is the nutritional value for cereals declining, but the amount spent on advertising is increasing. The cost of advertising for child-targeted cereals rose to $264 million in 2011, an increase of 34% compared to 2008 levels.
While children are being mesmerized by the sugary cereal commercials, the parents are being misled by false nutrition-related advertisements. General Mills advertised cereal to parents by stating “give your kids more of what they need to do their best. Grow up strong with Big G kids’ cereals.” Kellogg advertised “9 out of 10 kids don’t get enough fiber … Kellogg makes fiber fun.” Placing “whole grains,” “fiber,” and “good source of calcium and vitamin D” on packages for high-sugar cereals gave parents the impression that these cereals were healthy, which made parents more likely to purchase these cereals.
Not enough progress is being made. Cereals marketed to children now contain 56% more sugar, 52% less fiber, and 50% more sodium compared to adult cereals. Parents are being misled into believing they are buying cereal for their children with higher levels of nutrients than they actually have. Children are still being targeted by advertisements to desire cereals with the lowest nutritional value when there are nutritious alternatives that can be advertised. Hundreds of cereal commercials are broadcast yearly to children, showing images of their favorite celebrities and TV characters. Websites targeted to children with exciting advertising names, such as AppleJacks.com, CornPops.com, Fruitloops.com and HoneyDefender.com, are visited by more than 100,000 different children per month.
We can no longer rely on the cereal companies to regulate themselves. We need to have the government issue strong regulations regarding the advertising of children’s cereals. Equally important, we need to educate parents on the health risk of these sugary cereals. It is one thing for people to eat poorly and be fully aware of the consequences, but it is another thing to have people tricked into eating poorly. Cereal companies do not need to be convincing us that their cereals provide essential nutrients – they have to actually provide essential nutrients. Indulging in sweets every now and then is okay, but breakfast is an important meal, not simply a dessert. If breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day, then we should treat it as such and make sure that children stay away from unhealthy breakfast cereals.