by Marion Nestle
Oct 26 2009

Which cereals do companies push hardest? The sugary ones!

Kelly Brownell and his colleagues at the Rudd Center at Yale have produced another well researched – and in this case, gorgeously presented – report on the ways cereal companies market their products.

Even a quick look at its summary gives an unambiguous result: most of the marketing dollars are aimed at pushing sugary cereals at kids.  Companies use TV and the Internet to push the least nutritious cereals.

None of this is particularly surprising but it’s great to have the data.  Information about marketing budgets for specific products is hard to get.  It is easy to understand why companies would rather nobody knew how much they spent to get kids to pester their parents to buy Froot Loops or Cocoa Puffs.

Most troubling is the dual marketing.  Advertising aimed at kids pushes sugar.  Advertising aimed at parents uses health claims and self-endorsements like the late (and not lamented) Smart Choices program I discussed in previous posts.

Companies may argue that sugary cereals are good because they encourage kids to drink milk, but the Rudd Center researchers also have shown that kids are happy to eat non-sweetened cereals  Furthermore, if they add their own sugar, they are putting in less than the cereal companies put in.

The bottom line: forget industry self-regulation.  It doesn’t work.

FDA: it’s time to take on health claims.

  • susanne

    “The bottom line: forget industry self-regulation. It doesn’t work.” right on!

  • Anthro

    What is wrong with parents? I never, ever, bought a box of cereal other than corn flakes or shredded wheat (and I quit the corn flakes when I realized they have sugar as well) and mostly we ate oatmeal (the kind that takes a whole FIVE MINUTES to make.

    I think the difference is that we didn’t watch much TV. An hour of PBS nature stuff or Dr. Who in the evening and an hour of cartoons on Saturday. Secondly, my children were warned before entering a store that there would be zero tolerance for nagging (and then I had to remember to stick to it).

    Still, in the absence of parenting, I’d like to see much tougher regulation of food products as well as advertising aimed at children, which seems to be the larger problem.

  • I always wondered about the unpublished cereal study out of the University of Michigan in the 1960s. Researchers divided lab rats into 3 groups. One was fed rat chow, one was fed corn flakes, and the third was fed the boxes the corn flakes came in. As the story goes, all of the rats that were fed the corn flakes died before the rats who were only allowed to eat the cardboard boxes. I don’t know if this study is fact or myth (perhaps the legendary Ms. Nestle can enlighten me?), but it does make me think twice about the nutritional value of processed cereals, even the non-sugary variety.

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  • Why not tax (heavily) sweeteners added to cereal? Wouldn’t the US be better off if we did?

  • As for the value of puffed cereals, the Weston A Price Foundation has a resource on their site about it. Here’s an excerpt:

    In his book Fighting the Food Giants, Paul Stitt has tells us that the extrusion process used for these cereals destroys most of the nutrients in the grains. It destroys the fatty acids; it even destroys the chemical vitamins that are added at the end. The amino acids are rendered very toxic by this process. The amino acid lysine, a crucial nutrient, is especially denatured by extrusion. This is how all the boxed cereals are made, even the ones sold in the health food stores. They are all made in the same way and mostly in the same factories. All dry cereals that come in boxes are extruded cereals.

  • Anthro

    Dr Susan Rubin: What are you a doctor of?

    Weston Price does not seem to be a legitimate source of science-based nutrition advice, and while I’m not a fan of overly processed food, I’m not sure I can completely embrace the information you have cited about extruded cereal.

  • Debbie

    Good post. Our Sunday newspaper had a free sample box of new Apple Jacks that is high in fiber.

  • Unilever announced Monday night they were quitting the program.
    General Mills announced the same late Tuesday.
    Will Kellogg’s, the manufacturer of Froot Loops (poster child of all that is wrong with Smart Choices), throw in the towel as well?