In the last three decades, childhood obesity rates have doubled for children, and quadrupled for adolescents according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This hasn’t escaped the notice of parents. In a recent study published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 93.5% were able to recognize that their child was overweight. Even though parents saw what was before their eyes, they didn’t mean they were taking steps to help their children lead healthier lives.
The study surveyed parents or guardians of children between the ages of 5 years old and 20 years old. A total of 202 parent-children groupings were used for the final data. Through questions, the study then gauged if the parents were working on improving a child’s diet, or promoting physical activity. Although only 41% fell into the “Action” stage when it came to altering the physical activity levels of their children, 62% of parents had started to reform the diets of their children. This means they are actively seeking healthier choices, removing fast food, and adding more fruits and vegetables to their child’s diet. Across the board consumption of sugary snacks did not significantly decline. Cereal was never asked about specifically, but this easy breakfast can often fall short on nutrition while scoring high for sugar.
In 2009, and again in 2012, the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University published Cereal FACTS, an evaluation of the nutritional profiles of popular breakfast cereals. Unlike other studies, like a recent Environmental Working Group report evaluating sugar in cereal, Cereal FACTS factors in the popularity and marketing of the cereals as well as its overall nutritional profile. Using the Nutrient Profiling Index to assign an NPI score, the rankings range from 0-100, worst to best. Based on this, it released a list of the worst ten cereals marketed to children and families. Keep reading to see if you’re consuming one of the biggest offenders.
10. Cookie Crisp
It isn’t really too surprising that a cereal with “cookie” in the name isn’t earning high nutritional marks. For its part, General Mills has realized that it needs to cut back on sugar in cereal, and Cookie Crisp now has 9 grams of sugar per serving. It earned a 47 on the NPI scale, the highest of any of the cereals but still hardly healthy. Any score falling below 50 is not considered a nutritious choice.
9. Honey Nut Cheerios
Honey Nut Cheerios, another General Mills product, isn’t only found in the bowls set out for kids. Adults often choose the honey loops for breakfast too, a cereal that scored a 46 on the NPI. Like Cookie Crisp, it has 9 grams of sugar per serving. Honey Nut Cheerios was also one of the most highly marketed options, across all platforms including television and online.
8. Cocoa Puffs
Cocoa Puffs is the first cereal to jump into the double digits of grams of sugar per serving at 10, and had an NPI score of 45. It is the third General Mills brand, and the company is prevalent in the rest of the list as well. In 2011, it spent $246 million to market cereal to children and families. Cereal FACTS reports this is an increase of 26% from 2008.
7. Apple Jacks
The first Kellogg’s brand to enter the list is Apple Jacks, which has 12 grams of sugar per serving. The NPI score for Apple Jacks was 44. Apple Jacks were behind another first for the company. By releasing Apple Jacks “Race to the Bowl Rally,” and advergame app for smartphones and tablets, it became the first food company to create such a product meant for children.
6. Froot Loops
Like the previous fruit flavored cereal, Froot Loops pack 12 grams of sugar into one serving. It was ever so slightly less nutritious than the Apple Jacks, coming in with an NPI of 43. In 2011, Cereal FACTS states that Kellogg’s spent $35,714 marketing the cereal on television and in other media to the youth demographic.
Trix drops back down to 10 grams of sugar per serving, but other nutritional standpoints causes it to be lower on the list than the previous cereals. Trix’s NPI score was 42. It is also one of the cereals that as of 2011 had its own website. Online content is another way cereal companies are marketing to children and can foster attachment to a specific brand.
4. Lucky Charms
Lucky Charms continued the trend of decreasing sugar without improving nutrition. The NPI score was 42 for the bowl full of marshmallows, which contains 10 grams of sugar per serving. In 2011, an estimated 35,295 ads were viewed online for the cereal, 71% of which were seen on youth specific websites.
3. Cinnamon Toast Crunch
The sweet cinnamon sugar squares had a score of 41 on the NPI scale, and each serving size pours 9 grams of sugar into a consumer’s diet. Cinnamon Toast Crunch was also one of the four cereals that by 2011 had received a new child targeted website. Children, the Cereal FACTS report states, are 3.2 times more likely to visit these websites than adults.
2. Reese’s Puffs
According to Cereal FACTS, in 2011 children were seeing more advertisements for Reese’s Puffs. The cereal with a score of 38 on the NPI scale, and 10 grams of sugar was one of four cereals that upped the advertising ante to children. Along with more adverts for the peanut butter and chocolate choice, children were exposed to more advertising for Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Trix.
Children aged between 6 and 11 viewed on average, 52 ads for Pebbles cereal. The product has 9 grams of sugar per serving, but 37% of the content comes from sugar. It doesn’t have any fiber, and only 1 gram of protein. Post, the company producing Pebbles, was found to have more sugar and less fiber in its brands on shelves in 2012 than in 2008.