Industry Efforts to Improve Nutrition and Marketing for Children's Cereals Yield Mixed Results

    • June 22, 2012

Cereal companies have improved the nutritional quality of most cereals marketed directly to children, but they also have increased advertising to children for many of their least nutritious products, according to a report by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

In 2006, major cereal companies, such as General Mills, Kellogg, and Post, promised to enhance the nutritional quality of cereals advertised to children and strengthen their standards for child-directed advertising through the industry-led Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. The first Cereal FACTS study was released in 2009, and found that least healthy cereals were those most frequently and aggressively marketed directly to children as young as age 2.

The latest study shows that total media spending to promote child-targeted cereals increased by 34 percent from 2008 to 2011. In addition, spending in Spanish-language media more than doubled, and Black children’s total exposure to TV ads for child-targeted brands increased by 7.5 percent.

Researchers used the same methods to conduct the 2009 and 2012 studies. They examined the nutritional quality of more than 100 brands, and nearly 300 individual varieties of cereal marketed to children, families and adults. They also examined the scope of industry advertising on television, the Internet, and social media sites.

Key findings include:

Better for Kids

  • Overall nutritional quality improved for 13 of the 14 brands advertised to children by 10 percent on average. Of the 22 different varieties of these cereals available in both 2008 and 2011, 45 percent had less sodium, 32 percent had less sugar, and 23 percent had more fiber. General Mills improved the nutritional quality of all its child-targeted brands.

Worse for Kids

  • Companies increased child-targeted advertising for some of their least nutritious products. For example, children viewed more TV ads for seven child-targeted brands, including Reese’s Puffs, Froot Loops, and Pebbles.
  • Companies increased advertising to Hispanic youths: Spending on Spanish-language TV advertising for all cereals more than doubled, and Hispanic children’s exposure to these ads tripled.

More of the Same

  • A majority of the cereal ads that children see on TV promote products containing a spoonful of sugar for every three spoonfuls of cereal.
  • In 2011, the average 6- to 11-year-old saw more than 700 TV ads for cereals.

Support for the study was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Foundation.