While cereal companies have improved the nutritional quality of the majority of cereals marketed to children, they continue to most actively market their least healthy products to those same youngsters, officials from the Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy Obesity reported on Friday.
The findings come as part of a three-year update to the Rudd Center’s Cereal FACTS report, which was originally launched in 2009. That study discovered that the breakfast cereals that were worst for kids were also the “most frequently and aggressively marketed” directly to those children, some as young as two years old.
“Major companies such as General Mills, Kellogg, and Post… have promised to improve the nutritional quality of their children’s cereals,” they said. “Using the same methods as the original Cereal FACTS, researchers found that the children’s cereal landscape has not improved since then.”
“While companies improved the nutritional quality of most cereals marketed to children, the authors report that total media spending to promote child-targeted cereals has increased by 34 percent from 2008 to 2011,” the Rudd Center added. “Cereal companies continue to push their least nutritious products directly to children and children continue to see more advertising for cereals than for any other category of packaged food or beverage.”
Rudd Center director Kelly Brownell gave cereal companies credit for increasing the fiber and whole grain content of their products, as well as cutting the amount of sugar and sodium in each bowl, Lisa Baertlein of Reuters said. However, Brownell said that there was still room for improvement, and chided those companies for “using all their marketing muscle to push their worst cereals on children.”
The report found that overall, more than $260 million was spent to promote cereals aimed at kids last year, marking a 30% increase from 2008, Reuters reported.
“The study highlighted aggressive marketing of cereals… which rank among the lowest for nutrition and the highest for added sugar,” Baertlein said. “In the three years through 2011, childrens’ exposure to television ads for Froot Loops leapt 79 percent; their exposure to ads for Reese’s Puffs jumped 55 percent and that for Pebbles was up 25 percent. While regular Cheerios and Frosted Mini-Wheats have some of the highest nutrition scores, ads for those products were more likely to be targeted at adults, the report said.”
According to Kim Painter of USA Today, the least nutritious cereal marketed to kids was Pebbles, followed by Reese’s Puffs and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Lucky Charms was in fourth place, with Trix in fifth, Froot Loops in sixth, and Apple Jacks in seventh. Cocoa Puffs, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Cookie Crisp rounded out the top 10, in that order.
Overall, the Rudd Center also discovered that children see more advertisements from cereals than any other food and beverage product. They also plan to release another update to the report in 2015.