The cereals with the most sugar per ounce also tend to have
child-oriented marketing such as mascots, games, colors and fun
cereal shapes, researchers found in a study of brands that have
pledged to help reduce added sugars in kids' diets.
"For many children in the U.S., daily sugar intake exceeds the
levels recommended by health organizations," said co-author Sarah
Vaala of High Point University in North Carolina.
The American Heart Association recommends that children and teens
consume less than six teaspoons or 25 grams of added sugars per day.
For breakfast cereal in particular, federal guidelines recommend 6
grams or less per ounce of cereal. Sugary cereals often contain much
more per serving, the study team notes in the Journal of Nutrition
Education and Behavior.
"Cereal boxes appeal to children when families are actually making
purchasing decisions," Vaala told Reuters Health by email. "Prior
studies indicate that features like friendly mascots and familiar TV
characters attract children's attention and interest, and children's
requests for food products are often more successful than not with
Vaala and co-author Matthew Ritter analyzed sugar content and
child-oriented marketing features on 159 cereal boxes. They focused
on cereals manufactured by companies that participate in a voluntary
initiative launched in 2007 by the Council of Better Business
Bureaus to limit the food products that are advertised to children
on TV and other media based on certain sugar, fat, salt and calorie
The researchers studied whether cereal manufacturers applied the
same standards to packaging and whether those standards seemed
sufficient to promote low-sugar cereals to children.
Although the manufacturers seemed to apply the same nutritional
standards to cereal packages, that wasn't enough to promote
healthier products to kids. The guidelines are oriented around sugar
per suggested serving, but serving sizes vary based on cereal
density, which can be tough for consumers to calculate, the study
"Because different cereals weigh different amounts, the information
on the label can be confusing," Ritter told Reuters Health by email.
"Listing a standard metric applied across all weights of cereal
would enable consumers to make more informed choices with a quick
glance and no complicated math."
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New U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations around these serving size
designations went into effect in January in response to a creeping trend in
recent years of consumers eating more cereal at each sitting, Ritter added.
"When you compute the amount of sugar by weight of the cereal, the sugar content
is quite high and higher than federal recommendations," said Jennifer Emond of
the Dartmouth School of Medicine in Hanover, New Hampshire, who wasn't involved
in the study.
"There is a long history of the food industry being at odds with public health
advocates when it comes to child-directed foods," she said by email. "Raising
awareness of this issue is important."
On January 1, manufacturers in the voluntary initiative pledged to limit added
sugars to 12 grams or less per serving of cereal, which is half of AHA's
recommendation for total daily consumption.
"These cartoon characters are cute and hard to resist. They are also used to
market to adults through 'nostalgic marketing' because we all remember them from
when we grew up," said Vivica Kraak of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia,
who also wasn't involved with this study.
"But we are in the middle of an obesity and type-2 diabetes crisis in the United
States and worldwide and need companies to do more to either meet recommended
nutrient targets or stop using them to attract children," she said by email.
"Parents and concerned consumers can use social media to ask manufacturers to
strengthen their pledges and make meaningful actions to be part of the solution
and not part of the problem."
SOURCE: https://bit.ly/3cUTW6A Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior,
online March 6, 2020.
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