On the Table

Some cereals as sugary as candy

November 6, 2012 


Many ready-to-eat breakfast cereals marketed to kids are high in sugar.


If you have kids at home, you’ve probably got something in your pantry that’s as sweet a treat as leftover Halloween candy: their breakfast cereal.

It’s the bane of parents. How can you get your child to eat a hearty breakfast if it doesn’t taste good? A box of Lucky Charms (with a prize inside) wins out over bran flakes any day.

Consumer advocates and government regulators have long urged the food industry to voluntarily reduce the sugar in foods marketed to kids. Recently, companies have pledged to do better, and there’s some evidence that it’s working.

A report published last month for the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative is an example. The group is a coalition of 16 food companies working to improve the nutritional profile of, among other things, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals marketed to kids.

The report highlights reductions in added sugar, sodium and calories and increases in whole grains, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals in some products.

However, other research also shows that advertising has increased, with cereal being the second leading category of foods marketed to children. And even though the CFBAI report shows that more than 70 percent of kids’ cereals produced by member companies contain 10 grams of sugar per serving or less, that still means sugar is one-third of the cereals.

The American Heart Association recommends that teen girls limit added sugar to no more than 20 grams per day; for teen boys it’s 33. If one cup of cereal contains 10 grams of sugar, that’s half the day’s recommended budget for many kids.

And their day has just begun.

Low-sugar cereals do exist. However, most nutritious cereals are marketed to adults, not kids.

Food companies can and must do better.

You may be wondering which cereals top the sugar chart. A website created by the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity makes it easy to check.

If you go to cerealfacts.org, you will see that among the ten junkiest kids’ cereals are Post Pebbles, Quaker Cap’n Crunch, and Kellogg Rice Krispie Treats and Frosted Krispies.

Better choices include shredded wheat, Kashi Puffs, Kashi GoLean, Barbara’s Bakery Hole ’n Oats and General Mills Fiber One.

Like Halloween sweets, aim to make cereal candy a once-in-a-while treat.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor in the departments of Health Policy and Management and Nutrition in the

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net.

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