by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Cereals

Sep 4 2019

General Mills ad: Nutritionism in action

Nutritionism is a term coined by the Australian sociologist, Gyorgy Scrinis, and popularized by Michael Pollan.  It means reducing the value of a food to its content of specific nutrients.

This General Mills cereal advertisement is a perfect illustration of how nutritionism works.

Here is one of the six examples:

Chocolate Chex has more iron than black beans?

This may be a true statement, but it is misleading.

What General Mills is not saying is:

  • Whether  iron is absorbed from Chocolate Chex as efficiently as it is from black beans.
  • What nutrients are in black beans that do not appear in Chocolate Chex.
  • How much sugar Chocolate Chex provides as compared to black beans.
  • Which of these foods is better for your health.

Hence: Nutritionism.

Aug 9 2019

Annals of Marketing: A Sugary Cereal for Toddlers

Coming soon to a supermarket near you: Baby Shark cereal.

I am so out of it.  I never heard of the song, Baby Shark, before seeing this story about Kellogg’s new cereal—aimed at toddlers.

The song, I gather, is adored by babies, less so by their parents, but never mind: it is expected to sell lots of cereal.

I searched for a Nutrition Facts label online, but could not find one (the cereal won’t be available until mid-September, apparently.

I did see this at the bottom corner of the box:

One and one-third cup of this stuff provides 150 calories, 190 mg of sodium, and 15 grams of sugars.  Oh great, 40% of calories from sugars.

Another sugary cereal for kids, this one for little kids!

Do food companies market directly to children?  Yes, they do.

May 9 2019

Annals of international food marketing: Chinese Cocoa Bears?

I was in Beijing a couple of weeks ago and did a supermarket tour.

Here’s my favorite souvenir:

Nestlé (no relation) markets to children, apparently.

I regret being unable to read the nutrition information, but this looks like a standard sugary breakfast cereal, chocolate-flavored.

I’m told this would be considered a snack food, not a breakfast food.

Translation, anyone?

Jan 30 2019

Guess what: advertising to kids sells food products

It never occurred to me that we needed more research to prove that advertising to kids makes them want food products, pester their parents to buy the products, say they like the products, and actually eat the products.

That was the conclusion of a hugely important study from the Institute of Medicine in 2006.

You can download that report from the link.  It’s still worth reading.

Obviously, the points it made still need reinforcing.  Hence: this study.

Exposure to Child-Directed TV Advertising and Preschoolers. Intake of Advertised Cereals. Jennifer A. Emond, Meghan R. Longacre, Keith M. Drake, et al.  American Journal of Preventive Medicine, December 17, 2018.

The authors measured whether exposure to TV advertisements for kids’ breakfast cereals affected pre-schoolers’ intake of those cereals.

No surprise.  It did.

In this figure, the dots to the right of the vertical line indicate increased intake of the cereals after exposure to the ads.

I’d say the ads are doing what marketers hope they will do (except for Honey Nut Cheerios).  Ads for Cocoa Pebbles and Fruity Pebbles seem particularly effective.

The authors point out that food companies say they are no longer marketing to children under the age of six.  Obviously, they still are.

This is what parents are up against.  What to do?

Turn off the TV!  Call for regulation!

Oct 9 2018

Popular ready-to-eat breakfast cereals: sales figures

Ever wonder why breakfast cereals take up so much supermarket space?

BakeryAndSnacks.com has the answer:

It would be fun to match these up with their advertising budgets.  I don’t have those figures but am guessing there is a close correlation.

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Oct 3 2018

Rice cereals for infants: the arsenic problem

I’ve been collecting items on concerns about the levels of arsenic in rice, especially rice cereals for children.

The arsenic problem

Arsenic is toxic.  It occurs in food and water in two forms:

Inorganic: a carcinogen and heart disease risk factor

Organic: less toxic, but still harmful

Infant rice cereals are a special concern because they are often the only cereals fed to infants, and arsenic adversely affects infant cognitive development.

How much arsenic is in rice cereal?

In January 2012, Consumer Reports found worrisome levels of arsenic in apple and grape juices.  It followed this with a November 2012 testing of more than 200 products which found measurable amounts of arsenic in every product category, and in both forms:

Further testing in 2014 confirmed these findings.  Because there is no safe level of arsenic, it’s best not to have any, let alone the amounts found in commonly consumed products.

But in March this year, a report from Healthy Babies/Bright Futures (HBBF) found six times more arsenic in infant rice cereal than in infant cereals made from other grains.

How does arsenic get into rice?

Soil and water naturally contain arsenic, but humans also add arsenic to soil through agricultural pesticides (now supposedly banned) and other sources.

Rice also absorbs more arsenic from soil and water than other grains, perhaps because arsenic resembles the silicon these plants need, but also because rice fields are often flooded to prevent weed growth.

What is being done about arsenic in rice cereal?

In 2016, the FDA proposed limits on arsenic in infant rice cereals, issued a call for public comments, and extended the comment period, but has yet to take action.

The agency’s web page on rice an rice products provides:

In March this year, the Government Accountability Office issued a report urging FDA to finalize its guidance (this provides an excellent and well referenced review of the arsenic-in-cereals situation).

The FDA has all the evidence it needs and it is difficult to understand what is holding up its action.  One can only assume politics, alas.

What should you do in the meantime?

It seems pretty obvious that infant rice cereals should be removed from the market unless they can show much lower arsenic levels.

Plenty of other cereals exist.  At this point, those are much better options.

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Sep 4 2018

How did glyphosate get into Cheerios?

The Environmental Working Group recently released a report on the amounts of glyphosate (Roundup) in children’s breakfast cereals, particularly those made with oats and wheat.

Roundup, you may recall, has been judged a probable carcinogen by the International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) and California courts.  It is used to kill weeds in fields growing crops genetically modified to resist Roundup.

But oats and wheat grown in the U.S. are not genetically modified.  The FDA’s list of genetically modified foods says nothing about oats and wheat, and the agency does not permit GMO versions to be marketed.

How could Cheerios and Quaker Oats be contaminated with glyphosate at amounts that exceed standards?

The explanation:

Increasingly, glyphosate is also sprayed just before harvest on wheat, barley, oats and beans that are not genetically engineered. Glyphosate kills the crop, drying it out so that it can be harvested sooner than if the plant were allowed to die naturally.

Really?  They spray glyphosate on oats just before harvest?  Yes, they do.

What this means is that more glyphosate gets into your food from the non-GMO wheat and oats sprayed just before harvest, then from GMO corn and soybeans sprayed earlier in their growth.

Whether eating glyphosate is bad for you or your kids is a matter of fierce debate.  As the New York Times explains, the safety of glyphosate is very much at issue:

In fact, it is central to a raging international debate about the chemical that has spawned thousands of lawsuits, allegations of faulty research supporting and opposing the chemical and a vigorous defense of the herbicide from Monsanto, the company that helped develop it 40 years ago and helped turn it into the most popular weedkiller in the world.

Scott Partridge, a vice president at Monsanto, said in an interview on Wednesday that hundreds of studies had validated the safety of glyphosate and that it doesn’t cause cancer. He called the Environmental Working Group an activist group.

“They have an agenda,” he said. “They are fear mongering. They distort science.”

The EWG states its advocacy position on its website:

The Environmental Working Group’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, we drive consumer choice and civic action. We are a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.

I do not view this report as distorting science.  If anything, it provides data that the industry is not collecting or does not want released.  This information is useful for making decisions about what to eat.

You don’t want your kids eating glyphosate while scientists are still in disagreement about the extent of its harm to human health?

  • Vote with your fork: Buy organic cereals; they have far less or no detectable glyphosate.
  • Vote with your vote: Call for policies to get these practices stopped.

Or you can consider a third option now in play: file a lawsuit.

Mar 13 2018

Eat breakfast, prevent obesity (say Nestlé and General Mills)

I haven’t posted an industry-funded study with predictable results in a while but when I saw this headline from FoodNavigator-Asia, I couldn’t resist.

The headline: “The most important meal of the day: Daily breakfast may lower obesity risk in schoolchildren — Nestlé study.”

High marks to FoodNavigator-Asia for naming the funder in the headline.

Its article referred to this study:

Breakfast consumption among Malaysian primary and secondary school children and relationship with body weight status – Findings from the MyBreakfast Study, by E Siong Tee, Abdul Razak Nurliyana,  A Karim Norimah, Hamid Jan B Jan Mohamed , Sue Yee Tan, Mahenderan Appukutty, Sinead Hopkins, Frank Thielecke, Moi Kim Ong, Celia Ning, Mohd Taib Mohd Nasir.  Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2018;27(2):421 – 432.

Purpose: To determine the relationship between breakfast consumption and body weight status among primary and secondary school children in Malaysia among 5,332 primary school children aged 6 to 12 years and 3,000 secondary school children aged 13 to 17 years.

Results: “The proportion of overweight/obesity was higher among breakfast skippers (boys: 43.9%, girls: 30.5%) than regular breakfast eaters (boys: 31.2%, girls: 22.7%)…. Compared to regular breakfast eaters, primary school boys who skipped breakfast were 1.71 times (95% CI=1.26-2.32, p=0.001) more likely to be overweight/obese, while the risk was lower in primary school girls (OR=1.36, 95% CI=1.02-1.81, p=0.039) and secondary school girls (OR=1.38, 95% CI=1.01-1.90, p=0.044).”

Conclusion: “Regular breakfast consumption was associated with a healthier body weight status and is a dietary behaviour which should be encouraged.”

Author disclosures: “This study was funded by Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW), Lausanne, Switzerland and Nestlé R&D Center, Singapore. Sinead Hopkins and Frank Thielecke were working for CPW, Lausanne, Switzerland, and Moi Kim Ong and Celia Ning were working for Nestlé R&D Center, Singapore, when the study was conducted. All authors declare that they have no conflicts of interests.”

I was particularly interested in this study for several reasons:

No, I do not believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day (I’m not much of a breakfast eater).  Eat when you feel hungry.

It does make sense to think that children should be fed at regular intervals and should not go to school hungry.  It also makes sense that regular meals encourage healthier patterns.  But preventing obesity?  That seems like a stretch, especially when the study’s funders have a financial interest in selling breakfast cereals.