Some Breakfast Cereals Get Healthier, But Ads Still Favor Bad Choices

Froot Loops

Children’s cereals are healthier than they used to be, but cereal manufacturers still spend the bulk of their advertising dollars trying to sell their least-healthy products to kids, the Los Angeles Times reported June 22.

Half of cereals from big food makers like General Mills had less sodium, a third had less sugar, and nearly a quarter had more fiber in 2011 than 2008, a new report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University says.

But while cereal manufacturers offer a range of healthy and unhealthy cereals, their advertising dollars focus on the latter, says Rudd Center director Kelly Brownell, Ph.D. For instance, 45 percent of ads viewed by children in the study were for unhealthy cereals like Reese’s Puffs, Lucky Charms, and Froot Loops.

Overall, food companies spent 34 percent more advertising money on cereal targeted to children in 2011 than in 2008, the report shows.

“Cereals are typically nutrient-dense, low-fat, and serve as an important source of whole grains, and deliver nutrition in relatively few calories,” the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents cereal makers, said in a statement. “In fact, with milk, cereal is the leading source of 10 key nutrients in the diets of American children.”

While the may be true, it’s not the whole truth, notes lead researcher Jennifer L. Harris, Ph.D. “Children still get one spoonful of sugar in every three spoonfuls of cereal,” she says. “These products are not nutritious options that children should consume every day.”

The study will be presented in June 2012 at the biennial meeting of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues in Charlotte, N.C.

(Photo © Andreia via Flickr)