Kid's Cereals Healthier, Ads Still Push Least Nutritious Offerings

June 22, 2012

3 Min Read
Kid's Cereals Healthier, Ads Still Push Least Nutritious Offerings

NEW HAVEN, Conn.While companies improved the nutritional quality of most cereals marketed to children, total media spending to promote child-targeted cereals has increased by 34% from 2008 to 2011, according to the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesitys newly released Cereal FACTS 2012 Report.

The latest report found cereal companies continue to push their least nutritious products directly to children, and children continue to see more advertising for cereals than for any other category of packaged food or beverages.

Cereal FACTS was originally launched in 2009 and found that the least healthy breakfast cereals were those most frequently and aggressively marketed directly to children as young as age 2. Major companies such as General Mills, Kellogg, and Post belong to the Childrens Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), sponsored by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, and have promised to improve the nutritional quality of their childrens cereals. The CFBAI reports that participating companies also have improved their standards for child-directed advertising.

Using the same methods as the original Cereal FACTS, researchers found that the childrens cereal landscape has not improved over the past three years. The findings presented in the new  report document limited progress in the nutrition and marketing of children's cereals.

From 2009 to 2012, cereal companies improved the nutrition of most cereals marketed directly to children. Overall nutritional quality improved for 13 of 16 child-targeted brands, and the average nutrition score for childrens cereals improved from 40 out of 100 in 2009 to 43 in 2012. Of the 22 different varieties of child-targeted cereals available in both 2008 and 2011, 10 (45%) reduced the sodium, seven (32%) reduced sugar, and five (23%) increased fiber. General Mills

improved all of its child-targeted cereals. Companies also introduced new varieties of childrens brands with somewhat improved nutrition scores, such as Pebbles Boulders and Gluten Free Rice Krispies.

Cereal companies also reduced some forms of advertising directed to children. Most significantly, General Mills and Post discontinued their popular childrens advergame websites and As a result, childrens exposure to cereal company-sponsored websites declined by an estimated 100 ads per year, on average.

In addition, General Mills banner advertising on third-party childrens websites, such as and, went down by 43%. Capn Crunch and Envirokidz Organic also discontinued their child-targeted websites.

On TV, preschoolers exposure to ads for all cereals declined by 6%, and their exposure to ads for child-targeted cereals decreased by 8%. Among 6- to 11-year-olds, TV ad exposure declined for seven child-targeted cereals, including reductions of 66% to 67% for Kellogg Apple Jacks

and Corn Pops and 16% for General Mills Cookie Crisp. Post stopped advertising Honeycomb on TV.

At the same time, cereal companies increased advertising to children for many of their least nutritious products. Media spending to promote child-targeted cereals totaled $264 million in 2011, an increase of 34% versus 2008. Companies spent more to advertise childrens cereals than they spent on adult cereals; whereas in 2008, they had spent 41% more on adult cereals.

According to the report, despite improvements in nutritional quality, the cereals advertised to children contain 56% more sugar, 52% less fiber, and 50% more sodium compared with adult-targeted cereals.

The report also found children continue to see more ads on TV for ready-to-eat cereals than any other category of packaged food or beverage. Almost one-half (45%) of TV ads seen by children promoted five brandsGeneral Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Nut Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and Reeses Puffs; and Kellogg Froot Loops.

The majority of cereal ads seen by children on TV (53%) promote products consisting of one-third or more sugar; just 12% of cereal ads seen by children promote products with 26% or less sugar, compared with 48% of ads seen by adults. The Top 10 list of cereals advertised to children in Cereal FACTS 2012 is nearly identical to the Top 10 list in the first Cereal FACTS.

Click here to read the entire report.

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