Kids’ Cereals Are More Nutritious, But Ads Are Still Pushing The Unhealthiest Stuff

A new report says that while the good news is that U.S. food companies are doing kids a healthy favor by cutting out sugar and tossing in some more whole grains, all the benefits of those actions are being undermined by more ads featuring their unhealthiest products, targeted directly at kids.

The “Cereal Facts” study from Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found that many companies like Kellogg, General Mills and Post have improved the nutrition profile with many recipe tweaks, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement, reports Reuters.

“It’s not enough and the companies are still using all their marketing muscle to push their worst cereals on children,” Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center said.

While some of the highest scoring cereals on the nutrition scale were regular Cheerios and Frosted Mini-Wheats, those are usually marketed to adults. Meanwhile, the report pointed out the aggressive ad tactics for cereals like Reese’s Puffs, Froot Loops and Fruity Pebbles, aimed right at kids. Those brands have the lowest nutrition and highest added sugar.

Ad dollars splashed out to promote child-targeted cereals was up 33% from 2008, the last time the group did a study, at $264 million.

Food companies have agreed to regulate themselves through the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, instead of being subject to direct government oversight. Kellog, General Mills and Post have all agreed to stick to nutrition criteria for any products advertised to kids under 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,” said Elaine Kolish, director of CFBAI.

She says now most cereals have no more than 10 grams of sugar, compared to the 15 to 16 grams that were common before CFBAI was founded.

However, the American Heart Association points out that many kids are eating twice the serving size of breakfast cereal that they should be.

“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,” it said.

Previously in over-sweetened children: Disney Networks To Stop Airing Junk Food Ads To Kids; Government Proposes New Guidelines For Marketing Food To Kids

Kids’ cereals are healthier, ads aren’t — report [Reuters]


Edit Your Comment

  1. SabreDC says:

    Interesting how we go from step 1 “marketing cereal to children” to step 3 “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” without mentioning step 2. You know, the one where the cereal apparently transports itself from the store shelf to the pantry…

    • Jawaka says:

      Many parents are irresponsible and would buy their kids sugar coated arsenic tablets if it would shut them up in the morning.

    • exconsumer says:

      I think it’s irresponsible, as a culture, for us to spend millions of dollars and develop an entire industry out of misleading children and their parents into thinking that eating such cereal is normal and healthy, and then wash our hands when we discover that the persuasion machine we have created actually works.

    • crispyduck13 says:

      Word. We never had cereal like this in the house. It was a super special treat to find a box of frosted flakes.

    • highfructosepornsyrup says:

      So cereal companies market to kids and kids market to parents. As the middlemen in all this, it’s partially the kids’ faults. It’s the innocent and weak-willed parents that are the real victims of this kids-and-big-cereal conspiracy!

  2. MikeTastic says:

    Now I want Reese’s Puffs, dammit.

  3. exconsumer says:

    Its a strange thing that we allow this. We wouldn’t let our neighbors to endlessly persuade our children to adopt a different diet. But as long as it’s a large company, and they spend tons of money, and their ads are pretty and catchy, we seem to be ok with it.

  4. pk says:

    The Reese’s Puffs commercial makes me want to kill someone.

  5. Stickdude says:

    Sue them – why not?

    There has to be some way an enterprising lawyer can wring some money out of these companies.

  6. dulcinea47 says:

    Kids can stop eating sweetened cereal when their parents stop buying them sweetened cereal. Growing up, we were allowed to have Cheerios, Chex, Kix, and Life. Life was the sweetest thing we were allowed to have. And that was that.

    • exconsumer says:

      Which means that the ads were still very effective on you and your parents. None of those cereals are a replacement for an actual healthy breakfast.

      • George4478 says:

        So what is an ‘actual healthy breakfast’?

        I would think a cup of Cheerios, a half-cup of milk, and and half a banana sliced on top would be pretty good.

        • exconsumer says:

          If you’re looking for grains and the fiber, vitamins and minerals associated with them (and are trying to avoid sugars and additives), oatmeal, or some other whole grain food, is going to beat pretty much ANY boxed cereal.

          And there’s nothing ruling out eggs, meat, fruit, veggies, or, you know, all the other healthy foods in existence. That we consider dry cereal normal at all is a function of advertising.

          • George4478 says:

            Sure, some things are going to be better than my example, but that does not mean my breakfast is unhealthy. It’s not the healthiest meal possible, but so what? It is a healthy meal, according to daily nutritional guidelines. You talk like Cheerios should be renamed Demon Circles of Horrible, Horrible Death.

            Do you really eat vegetables at your breakfast? Not starches, but actual leafy greens?

        • dulcinea47 says:

          Yeah, that might not be THE HEALTHIEST BREAKFAST EVAR, but there’s really nothing terrible about cereal and fruit for breakfast, if the cereal is one that has some fiber (whole grains) and not a ton of sugar.

      • crispyduck13 says:

        This isn’t 1956 anymore, mom can’t always cook up a nice scratch-made breakfast every morning.

    • SabreDC says:

      Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies in my house growing up. And if my brothers and I were really good, we were allowed to put a teaspoon of table sugar onto them. Good times.

  7. costanza007 says:

    Big Cereal and their Big Cerealist agendas…

  8. mmmwright says:

    How come those cereals didn’t mysteriously appear in OUR kitchen cabinet when I was a kid??? When we asked for Frosted Flakes at the A&P, my mom said NO and bought oatmeal. And my dad worked in advertising! “Changing kids’ taste preferences” my ass. Don’t buy it and kids won’t have to have their “taste preferences” changed. How is it all these studies assume that the children in question have a disposable income and can buy their own food???

    • corridor7f says:

      Oatmeal? You poor thing. :P

      The best I got was Shreddies. If you didn’t eat them within 5 minutes, they morphed into wet cardboard.

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      Yep. Last I checked, usually parents drive to the grocery store and buy cereal.

  9. BigHeadEd says:

    You mean marketing and advertising is intended to influence decision makers (even indirectly through their children) and not just provide unbiased information about a company’s products and services so that the consumer can make an informed decision that is in their own best interests?

  10. corridor7f says:

    When’s the last time you saw an 8 year old buying groceries all by him / herself?


  11. AllanG54 says:

    Great article on about a class action suit against Nutella because they claimed it was part of a nutritious breakfast. Lawyers won $7 million. They got to keep 66% of that. There was no mention of where the rest went. Matter of fact one attorney quit his job as a patent lawyer because suing food companies was more lucrative. So, parents may be stupid but attorneys are whores.

    • corridor7f says:


      Yeah, it’s “part of a healthy breakfast” if you eat it with some broccoli.

      • Jillia says:

        Yup, later in life that manifests itself into the thinking that donuts are a good breakfast.

        • AllanG54 says:

          What?? You mean donuts AREN’T a good breakfast????

        • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

          I am a donut-worshipper. Although I know enough not to hork down dozens of it in one sitting.

          What I don’t get is why some people think bagels are “healthier” than donuts when in fact they aren’t.

          I do love bagels, too, BTW. But I only get them when it’s offered free in the office and even then I just eat half a bagel, enough to satisfy my craving.

    • crispyduck13 says:

      Wonder when someone is going to sue Big Corn for falsely claiming that HFCS is “corn sugar.” Really, I’m baffled this hasn’t happened yet, but assholes can sue Nutella – who just wanted to supply the Earth with the nectar of the gods.

      • highfructosepornsyrup says:

        Well… I think the crux of the argument is that big sugar isn’t actually fooling anyone in any meaningful way. Now if they start labelling the HFCS sweetened stuff as “sugar free”… cha ching!

  12. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    “Changing kids’ taste preferences takes time and effort.”

    It actually only takes about 2 weeks for your tastes to adjust to a new diet. So if you eliminate a large portion of duagr from your diet, you’ll stop craving it. This works with any foods. Want to snack better? Force yourself to switch to healthy snacks. After about 2 weeks, you’ll start craving those instead of your previous terrible snacks.

    So simply eliminate the bad choices from the shelves entirely and the problem will solve itself.

  13. Dagny Taggart says:

    Kids don’t buy Coco Puffs. They don’t ask Santa for Cap’n Crunch for Christmas. Parents make the purchasing decision.

    Food companies market that stuff to the kids because they know that many parents give into whining at the grocery store. Take a stroll down the cereal aisle at your local grocery store and see which products are placed at kids-eye level.

    I personally don’t care if they market sweet cereal to kids or not. It’s not the cereal companies’ fault that kids are eating this crap. It’s Mom and Dad. I would buy a box of it occasionally as a treat for my kids (it could be argued that it is no worse than giving them doughnuts or pancakes and syrup), but it didn’t take them long to figure out that throwing a tantrum in the store over cereal (as well as candy, cookes, etc.) was a waste of breath.

    • exconsumer says:

      But the other side of that is that you’ve got an organization that’s lying to your children about what’s healthy or normal to eat for breakfast. Telling them that they’ll be oh so much happier if they could just have that cereal. Their world is shaped to this end to well that they throw a tantrum when they don’t get it. Yes, you’re a parent, and yes it’s your job to correct our children when they are misled, even if it’s hard on you and your children emotionally, but why on earth don’t you hold the perpetrator responsible? If someone tried to convert your children to a new religion you wouldn’t just shrug it off, I imagine you’d have some choice words for the proselytizers.

      • Dagny Taggart says:

        That’s a bit of a stretch to make that analogy.

        And for the record, there are plenty of commercials for religion on TV.

        Children are bombarded by thousands of messages a day, and a parent can’t be with their kid 24-7 until they turn 18. It may be cereal commercials when they are 3, but at 12, it might be a friend telling them drugs are awesome . It’s a parent’s responsibility to teach their children their own values, as well as how to properly filter and evaluate all information they receive, regardless of source.

  14. The Cupcake Nazi says:

    So, they’re most heavily pushing the lowest-quality, highest-margin products instead of the ones that might be halfway decent on the largest cereal-eating demographic?

    I’m shocked, I tell you. Flabbergasted, even.

  15. Dreadcthulhu says:

    In this day and age, there is little reason why a parent should let their children see any sort of televised advertisements. Netflix & Amazon have plenty of children’s shows available for streaming. And there are plenty of child-appropriate video games as well. Not to mention, violent crime is at the lowest rates in decades, so parents can just send their older kids outside to play.

  16. Sound Money Girl says:

    I don’t blame the marketers for marketing this junk to kids. That’s their job. I blame the parents for buying it. My mom only bought Cheerios, Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, and Raisin Bran. All whining for Fruit Loops was ignored. It was a very exciting day when Dad was sent to the store to buy Corn Flakes and came home with Frosted Flakes instead.

    Of course, we also had to eat our vegetables and eat dinner at the table with the rest of the family. Soda was not allowed at meals, only as an occasional treat.

  17. Outrun1986 says:

    Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies are just as bad as the other cereals as they contain HFCS now. Sometimes you can find a generic that does not have it though, the Aldi generic corn flakes does not have it but I haven’t seen Rice Krispies that does not have it. If your kids insist on the brand name, buy the Aldi stuff when your kids are not with you and then pour it into the brand name box you have at home :)