Cereals getting healthier but companies pushing worst ones

While cereal companies are improving many of their products for kids by adding whole grain and cutting sugar, they are simultaneously marketing more heavily their less healthy products, according to a new Yale study.

The “Cereal Facts” study is from Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. Kelly Brownell is the director of the center.

From Fox News:

” ‘It’s not enough and the companies are still using all their marketing muscle to push their worst cereals on children,’ Brownell said.”

“Spending to promote child-targeted cereals totaled $264 million in 2011, up 33 percent from 2008, according to the study, which followed up a similar report from three years ago.”

“The report called out aggressive marketing of cereals like General Mills’ Reese’s Puffs, Kellogg’s Froot Loops and Post’s Fruity Pebbles to children. It said those brands rank among the lowest for nutrition and the highest for added sugar.”

Elaine Kolish, director of the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), a voluntary self-regulation program for food marketed to children, said that “before the CFBAI was founded, some cereals had 15 to 16 grams of sugar per serving. Now, she said, most have no more than 10 grams of sugar — or about 2.5 teaspoons — per serving.”

The report’s authors say that’s essentially all the sugar a child should have in a day.

We’re pretty good about choosing the healthier cereals and often going for plain oatmeal that they sweeten themselves. If we ever buy Trix or the like the kids know that it’s a treat and not a healthy start to their day. (Sorry Trix!)

What do you observe in cereal marketing? Do you think the companies are pushing their least healthy products? What are your kids asking you to buy? Are they willing to go for the Cheerios or Frosted Mini-Wheats, which the study says are better? (Mine think Frosted Mini-Wheats are total treat. They’ll eat those any day.)

22 comments Add your comment

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

June 26th, 2012
12:46 pm


June 26th, 2012
12:52 pm

Do you really believe that any cereals are “healthier”?

Whole grains or not, the body digests it quickly and it lacks in essential fats and protein. Most of the vitamins and minerals come through fortification.



June 26th, 2012
1:04 pm

I just don’t buy sugary cereal. I keep Cheerios in the house. The only sugary one we sometimes have is Panda Puffs which have 7 grams of sugar but I only allow small servings for a quick on the go snack. I don’t keep candy, cookies, soda, or potato chips in the house. If it isn’t there, it can’t be eaten. I don’t understand why people whine about kids being unhealthy but then keep buying junk food for them.


June 26th, 2012
1:05 pm

I don’t worry about what is in cereal. My son likes Frosted Mini-Wheats better than any other cereal, though can’t say I’ve bothered to read the ingredients. I know he gets a balanced diet throughout the day so a little cereal isn’t going to hurt. Moderation people, why is this so hard to understand?


June 26th, 2012
1:06 pm

In other words, parents need to quit falling for the advertising or their kids demands. If they don’t buy the junk cereal, it won’t be there for the kids to eat!


June 26th, 2012
1:17 pm

Have you noticed how they set things up in the grocery stores? When marketing to children, the sugary cereals will be found at their eye level, mostly the bottom two shelves. Look at see what is at YOUR eye level. Some sugary, but mostly granola based cereals, bran, etc.

Also, the MOST EXPENSIVE items are at your eye level. A lot of research as been completed about our buying habits. Also, the makers of these items pay extra for certain shelf placement.

I have a relative who is a manager at Publix. He tells me all these things.


June 26th, 2012
1:18 pm

It is kind of funny that the Raisin Brans are the highest in sugar since most people would tend to think they’re healthier than something like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. They do coat the raisins in sugar though.

We eat a variety of cereals but this just made me think about what I think is healthy. Example: Cheerios has 1 gram of sugar per 1 cup serving which sounds great but I know if my son eats a bowl, he’s going to sprinkle some sugar on them. So let’s say he sprinkles 2 teaspoons of sugar (=8 grams) for a total of 9 grams. 1 cup of Pops, which doesn’t need any additional sugar, has 9 grams of sugar. I guess the Pops aren’t as bad as I would have thought!


June 26th, 2012
1:27 pm

Our kids actually don’t usually request the super sugar cereals, I think because my wife & I have never brought them into the house and aren’t going to, so they just know not to ask. Plus they don’t eat cereal that often, usually just when we’re rushed for breakfast or we throw some in a plastic baggie for them to snack on in a car during a road trip. They all love cheerios (the multigrain ones are everyone’s favorite) and Rice Krispies. Those are the two cereals we always have in the house. Occasionally we’ll splurge and treat them to Cocoa Krispies. Believe me, that is a BIG treat in our house.

food lover

June 26th, 2012
1:28 pm

Thank you MamaP! As parents we can make a huge difference in our children’s eating habits for the rest of their lives if we help them make good choices when they are young. If we offer healthy choices, they will see this as normal. And how did children learn that sprinkling sugar on cereal is even a possibility? Kids and corporations don’t decide that sugar cereal and hot dogs are the norm, parents do!!


June 26th, 2012
1:57 pm

DD has asked for the fruity cr@p a few times, and I said No. Wow, that was hard! /end sarcasm/

In all seriousness, don’t blame the advertisers for adults buying sugary or fatty whatever. We buy Cheerios and if I’m really treating, Lucky Charms, and I’m okay with the bit of sugar in it, as I know we’ll make up for it at other meals.

I really like the Fiber One Caramel Delight cereal, but pretty much any cereal is a total waste of WW points, so I decided I can do without :o)


June 26th, 2012
3:13 pm

We always have a box of Cheerios in the house for the kid, and then some assortment of Great Grains, flakes with strawberries, etc. or granola/muesli for the adults. I have no clue how cereals are marketed because I rarely see any commercials. Even the kid isn’t allowed to watch kids channels with commercials (I’m looking at you Nick and Cartoon Network) unless a show has been DVR’d so we can fast forward. Harsh to some, but then we don’t have the lame commercials in our faces 24/7.


June 26th, 2012
4:43 pm

So it’s the fault of companies for riding around in the grocery cart, putting the box in the cart, pushing it to checkout, paying for it, putting the box in the pantry, getting out the bowl, opening the box, pouring the cereal, pouring the milk and handing it to the child?

If you’re claiming to be the parent and touting all of your duties (for attention, pity, sympathy, etc), you can’t simultaneously say you have no control.


June 26th, 2012
5:38 pm

I think it’s never to early to educate your kids about these topics including the sneaky marketing tactics. I try to use the “junk at kids eye level” as a learning experience when we are grocery shopping. We would go thru the isle and my kids, of course, would grab all the junk food cereals that they could get their hands on, but I use that moment to educate them about how unhealthy some cereals can be and I also teach them about the marketing tricks companies use to get kids to pick them first (placing at their eye level).

I’m not a complete cereal nazi though…. We do sometimes buy fruity pebbles or other junky cereals, but they aren’t allowed to eat it as breakfast. They would eat it later in the day as a sweet snack instead of a popsicle or something. My kids are 4 and 7 and they get it!! I have been teaching them these types of grocery things since they could talk in sentences. I also educate them about organic vs non organic and how dangerous pesticides can be, why they’re used, and why we don’t buy organic for everything single thing we eat (aka budget lesson). I think if you actually educate kids about the choices they have, they will be more likely to make good/healthy ones.

I can’t stand parents who think they have no control over it and just fill their cart up with junk because their kids saw it on tv and really want it. That’s just bad parenting in my opinion.


June 26th, 2012
5:41 pm

The only cereal we keep in the house is Rice Krispies…and since I mix them with marshmellows and butter…well I don’t care about the “healthy” side at that point.

Special K bars are a big favorite of one child for school snack though. I know they have sugar in them too. If a kid is active and otherwise eating healthy then sugar cereral is not a big concern….and don’t say hyper, science has shown that the initial sugar rush you get is over with in minutes.


June 26th, 2012
5:48 pm

“I have a relative who is a manager at Publix. He tells me all these things.”

Hmmmm I took Marketing, Finance, and other business courses in college. Guess what they told us?


June 26th, 2012
7:03 pm

Why is it that TWG cannot adequately select the right cereal? Is it really that hard? How about saying no to the kids.The question you ask about whether kids are “willing” to go for better cereals proves how weak of a parent you are.


June 26th, 2012
11:37 pm

We have Sweet Cereal Saturdays. The kids eat them only on that day, they understand that it is a treat and they understand why. Normally, they eat a healthy breakfast everyday. Saturdays are days without school and such. They even get to choose which one they want from the grocery store. Yes, we are the parents. Yes, we help them understand their choices and we help them understand that we want them to make healthy choices but allow for occassional treats.

Voice of Reason

June 27th, 2012
7:58 am

Spoiled milk is a cereal killer.

mystery poster

June 27th, 2012
9:40 am

Way back in the early ’80s, they changed the names of many cereals, but did not change the recipes at all:
Sugar Smacks became Honey Smacks.
Sugar Pops became Corn Pops
Sugar Frosted Flakes became Frosted Flakes

There were others, too, but I don’t remember exactly what.

Warrior Woman

June 27th, 2012
11:12 am

Like MamaP said, it is the parents’ responsibility to ensure their children’s diet is healthy. It is not the responsibility of food manufacturers, marketers, or retailers to police your choices.


June 27th, 2012
11:27 am

Right one Warrior Woman. Their jobs as retailers and producers is to sell their products. Your job as a parent is to do what you believe is best for your child.


June 28th, 2012
7:40 am

Hey now…leave my Fruit Loops out of this. I fought really hard to have enough money to buy all of the sugary cereals that I want. What do you expect me to feed little Delmar, Rice Krispies or some barren crap that you have to dump a cup of granulated, refined sugar on to make edible? I require my cereal to be sugar encrusted goodness that has nothing to do with health, unless you count burning 5 calories walking down the aisle to buy it.
Next thing you know, they will be slamming Chefboyarde for people with 215/130 blood pressure, as being unhealthy…I’m so mad I’m going to go and chain smoke some Camels.