Cereals are a popular breakfast option around the world, mostly because how convenient, easy and filling they are. And with most of the breakfast cereal brands considered to be healthy, the trend has only gone higher, especially with parents choosing breakfast cereals for their kid’s first meal of the day. While breakfast cereals might promise a whole lot of nutrients – fibre, vitamins, minerals, etc., it is also true that they have processed foods and potentially high sugar content. And if a recent study is to be believed, children consume more sugar from their breakfast cereal then intended merely due to insufficient industry nutritional guidelines.
The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour, found that there has been little improvement in the nutritional value of breakfast products marketed to children despite 12 years of self-imposed industry regulations intended to improve child health. The study focused on the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), an industry self-regulation program introduced in 2007 that, in part, guides companies in promoting food and beverages to children under the age of 12. The CFBAI includes 18 companies that together produce 70 to 80 percent of all children’s television advertising.
The regulations by CFBAI require breakfast cereals advertised to children to meet certain nutritional standards such as fewer than 200 calories and fewer than 13 grams of added sugar per serving. It was also noticed in the research that companies participating in the CFBAI also limited the use of packaging features appealing to children, such as mascots and games, to cereals with less than 13 grams of sugar per serving.
Author Matthew B. Ritter, PhD, of High Point University, High Point, NC, USA, pointed out that “Consumers often confuse what they consider to be a single serving and what is listed as the product’s suggested serving size, generally eating more than what is recommended for a healthy diet. Parents might be misled by the sugar content contained in the nutrition panel of many ready-to-eat cereal boxes, potentially leading to a higher sugar intake among children than intended.
However, cereals listed as meeting CFBAI requirements had more sugar per ounce on average compared to those that did not claim to meet those guidelines. In fact, more than half of the cereals with moderate sugar per serving (9-12 grams) had high sugar per ounce (defined as more than 9 grams per ounce).
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“Cereals explicitly listed as meeting CFBAI requirements overwhelmingly contain more than 9 grams of sugar per ounce – well above the nutrition limits for eligible purchase through the WIC federal food assistance program,” said study author Sarah E. Vaala, PhD, of High Point University
CFBAI-compliant companies have improved nutrition in their products, but previous studies have found they still market lower-nutrition products more heavily to children than their healthier alternatives.
“Cereals with the highest sugar content often display child-driven marketing gimmicks on their boxes, like mascots. This validates similar findings in earlier research,” Dr Vaala said. “Based on prior research, we suspect the frequency of these promotional tools on relatively sugary cereals leads to more children being attracted to cereals with higher sugar content.”
Dr. Ritter concludes the research with two main points: a standardized metric would empower parents to make better purchase decisions for their children, and “the manufacturers are really making almost no effort to promote lower sugar options.”
The study overall suggests that breakfast cereal is marketed directly to children more than any other food category, and many of these cereals fail to meet WIC nutritional standards.