Cereal ads might be bad for your child’s health

Consumer Reports News: October 27, 2009 02:46 PM

The average preschooler sees 642 cereal ads per year on television alone, almost all for unhealthy cereals. And the fact that commercials for these sugary, frosted, candy-colored breakfast cereals run during your child’s favorite television shows is no coincidence. According to a new study from Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, the least healthy breakfast cereals are the most frequently and aggressively marketed to children. The researchers looked at the nutrient composition and comprehensive marketing efforts of 115 cereal brands and 277 individual cereal varieties, and here’s what they found:

  • Cereals marketed directly to children have 85 percent more sugar, 65 percent less fiber, and 60 percent more sodium than cereals marketed to adults.
  • Forty-two percent of child-targeted cereals contain artificial food dyes, compared with 26 percent of adult cereals.
  • Of the children’s cereals, only 8 percent meet the nutrition standards needed to be included in the USDA’s food stamp program, and not one meets the nutrition standards required to advertise to children in the United Kingdom.

Cereal companies spend about $229 million per year marketing to children on television—and that’s not including other extensive marketing efforts via the Internet, social media, packaging, and in-store promotions. Experts say aggressive marketing of unhealthy foods like sugary cereals is contributing in a big way to the growing childhood obesity rates. In 2005, a groundbreaking report concluded that the promotion of food and beverages has a direct impact on kids' food intake, nutritional status, and health and has contributed to the rise in childhood obesity.

The government and consumer groups have taken steps to push the food industry and advertisers to change their standards for food marketing targeted to children. And many companies, such as Kraft Foods, Nestle USA, and Burger King Corporation, have pledged to improve the nutritional profile of food products marketed to kids, while other have stopped marketing them to children under the age of 12 altogether, but more changes are needed. You can do you part by helping your children develop healthy, reasonable eating habits and ensuring that the most important meal of their day is a nutritious one. Cereal is a quick, healthful choice for breakfast—just be sure to choose lower-sugar varieties and serve it with fruit. And if your child is filling up on too many sweet cereal commercials, set some limits on TV time by encouraging alternate activities.

Ginger Skinner

Watch our cereal nutrition Ratings video and find out which cereals had the highest and lowest nutrition scores (subscribers only). And take a look at some ways to help your child maintain healthy eating habits.

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