The percentage of children who are obese has more than doubled, and among adolescents the rates have more than tripled since 1980. Obesity is a risk factor for chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome. So, what does this have to do with breakfast cereals?
If you have kids, if they eat cereal, and if that cereal is directly marketed to kids, keep reading.
A recent study finds kids’ cereals contain 85 percent more sugar, 65 percent less fiber and 60 percent more sodium than adults’ cereals. The report by Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity was funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Foundation.
The worst offenders:
1. Reese’s Puffs
2. Corn Pops
3. Lucky Charms
4. Cinnamon Toast Crunch
4. Cap’n Crunch (tied)
6. Froot Loops (tied)
6. Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles (tied)
9. Cocoa Puffs
10. Cookie Crisp
In case we didn’t already suspect, we now find that the least healthy breakfast cereals just happen to be the cereals most marketed to children. In fact, children are exposed to marketing of highly-sugared cereals more than for any other packaged food—to the tune of more than $156 million a year. The average preschooler sees 642 cereal ads each year, with most ads promoting those cereals with the worst nutritional ratings (and these are just the ads on television). The average child on the internet spends an average of 23.7 minutes per visit on General Mills’ Millsberry.com website, which boasts an average of 767,000 young visitors per month.
Now, you might be thinking something like “my kids won’t eat cereal that isn’t a pretty color with a cute name or funny shape.” Research shows they will. In a related study, Yale researchers found kids tend to eat about one serving (one cup) of low-sugar cereal, while those eating highly-sweetened cereals ate an average of two servings (two cups)—BUT—they rated the taste of both types equally high.
You might also be thinking, “this is just cereal. Big deal.” It actually is a big deal. Due to their earlier stage in cognitive development, children are more influenced by marketing. It’s harder for children to distinguish differences between entertainment and marketing content on television. In addition, lifelong taste preferences are established in childhood.
Yes, we’re focusing here on cereal, but we’re also talking marketing and influencing behavior. What if we tried to influence more positive behaviors and choices? Shouldn’t foods marketed to children be held to a higher standard? Doesn’t it make sense that this might be a good place to begin to address the causes of and ways to prevent childhood obesity? Here’s the kicker: Why don’t we?