Advertising the Worst Cereals to Kids

In 2006, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) was formed by some of the largest food companies as a promise to change their ways through self-regulation. Among other things, they pledged to raise the nutritional standards for children’s cereals as well as the standards for advertising targeted to children. What progress, if any, have they made?

A new report published by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Cereal FACTS 2012, answers that question. It found that many of the cereals marketed to kids today are a smidge healthier than they were in 2008, but these are the same cereals that remain among the least nutritious in the companies’ portfolios and are marketed to children more heavily than ever before. They include Pebbles (up to 37% sugar content), Reese’s Puffs (34%), Cinnamon Toast Crunch (30-32%), Lucky Charms (37%), Froot Loops (up to 48%), Cocoa Puffs (up to 37%), Cookie Crisp (33-35%) and Frosted Flakes (up to 37%).

From 2008 to 2011, total media spending on cereals for children increased by 34% to $264 million. The cereals advertised contain 57% more sugar, 52% less fiber, and 50% more sodium than adult-targeted cereals. Children’s cereals contain one spoonful of sugar for every three spoonfuls of cereal. After a single serving of one of these cereals in the morning, children will have had as much sugar as they should for the entire day. Sweetness sells, and more so for children’s palates (it is, after all, the first category of taste that people are biologically engineered to recognize), and food companies aren’t about to abandon a formula that works just because one in three American children are overweight or obese, causing a range of health problems.

Elaine Kolish, the director of CFBAI, argues that the cereals “are more nutritious and lower in calories when compared to other likely breakfast options, such as muffins, donuts, pancakes and waffles,” as reported in AdWeek. That’s supposed to be a selling point. At least these cereals are better for children than an over-sized bakery muffin, a chocolate-glazed donut or syrup-saturated pancakes and waffles. The goal for these companies, of course, is to make sales, not to nourish our children. For best nourishment, you can only rely on food made with fresh, good-quality ingredients, including these whole-grain pancakes I often make for my preschooler.

As Katy Bachman of AdWeek writes, “public health organizations may have lost the battle to have the federal government impose stricter food marketing guidelines, but they aren’t giving up on their overarching mission.”

The hope, with the publication of the Cereal FACTS 2012 report, is to move the public to action, in the same way it was moved to do so on the pink slime controversy, for example. “We hope parents will start to realize how unhealthy these products are and how much is being marketed to kids,” said Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives for the Rudd Center. “I don’t think the industry will do more unless they’re forced to by consumers or the government.” As study co-author and director of the Rudd Center Kelly Brownell put it, “it is obvious that industry regulating itself is a failure.”

Childhood obesity, according to the American Heart Association, ranks as the No. 1 health concern among parents in the United States. Parents should be outraged by the quality of the food, including cereals, that the industry markets directly to our children and that contribute to the nation’s obesity epidemic.

Related Stories:

Disney Says No to (Some) Junk Food Ads

Marketing Junk Food to Kids Is Evil

FTC Investigating Online Food Marketing to Kids

Photo Credit: AJ LEON


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

moderation is the key. and it isnt the fault of advertising! it's the fault of parents! first off, of course kids are going to see ads on tv when they are allowed to vegetate in front of cartoons all day. Second, parents buy these sugary cereals. consumers control what is sold and what is successful.

Rin S.
Rin S5 years ago

At least they taste amazing.

Stephanie Warm
Stephanie Warm5 years ago

I don't see anything wrong with these cereals. All in moderation. Pair them with some milk or soymilk, a piece of fruit (or perhaps some blueberries or strawberries mixed into the cereal), and maybe a glass of orange juice, and you have a balanced breakfast. Some sugar isn't a big deal. When you deprive kids (or anyone) of the things that they crave, they are just going to want them more. Also, this is only one meal of the day. Conisder what else is being eaten throughout the day, and the overall nutritional level is decent, then I don't see a problem.

Arild Warud

Ban all advertising to kids.

Angela N.
Angela N5 years ago


Barbara Mann
Barb Mann5 years ago

Moderation! It's just like everything else we feed our children!

Berny P.
Berny p5 years ago

You are the are responsible for what your kids stop trying to blame others!

Gloria picchetti
Gloria picchetti5 years ago

What's wrong with real breakfast?

Pamylle G.
Pamylle G5 years ago

This crapola should not be considered food. I didn't let my children have these candied cereals, and they lived.