If you give children low-sugar cereals and place some fresh fruit and sugar on the table, most of them will add a good portion of fresh fruit, researchers from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, wrote in the medical journal Pediatrics. The study provides encouraging evidence that despite heavy marketing of sugar-laden cereals aimed at children, kids can and will make sensible nutritional decisions on their own if given the chance.
Although breakfast is widely accepted as a crucial meal which should not be skipped, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals contribute significantly to a child's daily intake of added sweeteners. Studies have shown that cereals specifically targeted at children have considerably more sugar added than other breakfast cereals, the authors explained. Not only is breakfast nutritionally important for a child's health, it is also vital for good academic performance.
Because of these factors, children tend to consume much more refined sugar than they should.
Parents get mixed signals from messages via the media, many supposedly coming from experts. While some report that only low-sugar cereals should be made available for kids, others stress that compared to no breakfast at all, serving high-sugar cereals is better.
Jennifer L. Harris, PhD, MBA, and team carried out a randomized study involving 90 children, aged 5 to 12 years, who were attending summer day camp. They wanted to find out whether kids will eat low-sugar ready-to-eat cereals, and what effect serving high vs. low sugar cereals might have on how much fruit, refined sugar, and milk they consumed.
The children were assigned to two groups:
- Low-Sugar Cereal Group - they could chose from Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies or Cheerios. Cereals which have from 1g to 4g of sugar per serving.
- High-Sugar Cereal Group - they could chose from Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Pebbles or Froot Loops. Cereals which contain from 11g to 12g of sugar per serving.
At the end of their meal the kids filled out a questionnaire which asked whether they added sugar, ate any fruit, and how much they liked their breakfast.
The researchers found that the children in the Low-Sugar Cereal Group consumed approximately 12.5g of refined sugar during breakfast compared to 24.4g in the High-Sugar Cereal Group. They also reveal that 54% of the Low-Sugar Cereal Group added fresh fruit to their breakfast, compared to 8% in the High-Sugar Cereal Group.
90% of all the children said they liked or loved their breakfast. The average breakfast rating in the Low-Cereal Group was 4.5, and 4.6 in the High-Cereal Groups (out of a maximum rating of 5 and minimum of 0).
The Low-Sugar Group had an average of just one cereal serving; compared to nearly two servings in the High-Sugar Group.
Although the kids in the Low-Sugar Group added more sugar to their breakfast cereal, their total refined sugar intake, at 0.7 teaspoons, was considerably lower than for those in the High-Sugar Group, who had 5.7 teaspoons.
Orange juice and milk intake was the same in both groups.
14% of calories came from refined sugar and 18% from fruit in the Low-Sugar Group, compared to 25% from refined sugar and 12% from fruit in the other group, the authors revealed.
The researchers added that repeatedly giving children high-sugar breakfast cereals will eventually give them a much sweeter palate - they will go for sweeter foods in general.
The authors concluded:
- "Compared with serving low-sugar cereals, high-sugar cereals increase children's total sugar consumption and reduce the overall nutritional quality of their breakfast. Children will consume low-sugar cereals when offered, and they provide a superior breakfast option."
"Effects of Serving High-Sugar Cereals on Children's Breakfast-Eating Behavior"
Jennifer L. Harris, PhD, MBAa, Marlene B. Schwartz, PhDa, Amy Ustjanauskas, BAa, Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, PhD, RDb, Kelly D. Brownell, PhD
Written by Christian Nordqvist