Cereals aimed at kids are generally more nutritious now, but cereal companies are spending more on adverts aimed at encouraging children to eat less nutritious products, researchers from Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity revealed in a new report. The authors added that from 2008 to 2011 there was a 34% increase in cereal advertising aimed at children.

Cereal companies, including Kellogg, Post, and General Mills, had pledged to reduce ad spending on unhealthy products aimed at children as part of the industry-led Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (2006). The Cereal FACTS 2012 report (Report) listed all changes in the nutritional quality of children-targeted cereals, as well as childhood exposure to marketing campaigns.

The Report is being presented today at the Biennial Conference of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center, Jennifer L. Harris, who was also lead researcher, said:

“Children still get one spoonful of sugar in every three spoonfuls of cereal. These products are not nutritious options that children should consume every day.”

Froot Loops, are targeted at children. They are high in sugar. Many cereals contain one spoonful of sugar for every three spoonfuls for cereal eaten

Despite industry pledges, the Rudd Center in 2009 found that the least healthy cereals were being advertised more aggressively and frequently – in many cases, the targets were kids as young as two years of age.

The new 2012 Report gathered data on over 100 brands and 300 varieties of cereals aimed at kids, their families, as well as adults. The authors focused on advertising on TV, social media sites and the Internet in general.

  • 13 of the 14 brands targeted at children are now nutritionally better than before.
  • They looked at 22 different varieties of these cereals, compared their nutritional content in 2008 with 2011, and found that:

    – 45% had lower sodium levels
    – 32% had less sugar
    – 23% had higher fiber content
    – General Mills stood out in improving the nutritional quality of all its brands aimed at kids

  • Two of the most popular children’s advergame sites – Millsberry.com and Postopia.com were closed down. By closing down its advergame site, General Mills’ banner advertising in children’s websites decreased by 43%
  • In 7 of 14 brands aimed at kids, children were exposed to fewer TV ads. TV ads for Corn Pops and Honeycomb were reduced.

  • For the remaining brands aimed at children, campaigns were stepped up and kids were exposed to more of them – including ads for Reese’s Puffs, Pebbles and Froot Loops
  • A new Pebbles advergame website was opened up by Post, while new sites were launched by General Mills for Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Honey Nut Cheerios
  • Kellog’s banner advertising on kids websites, such as Neopets.com and Nickleodeon.com nearly doubled, while banner advertising for Lucky Charms, Honey Nut Cheerios and two other brands were ramped up by General Mills
  • Kellog launched an advergame for smartphones and tablets aimed at kids for AppleJacks.com (“Race to the Bowl Rally”) – the authors say this is the first mobile phone advergame to be introduced by a food company
  • Hispanic kids’ exposure to cereal ads on TV nearly tripled
  • Several brands saw new ads in Spanish aimed at kids, including Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Froot Loops
  • The authors say that, overall, companies are still aggressively marketing their least nutritious cereals directly to children
  • Although products like regular Cheerios and other cereals with lower sugar contents are being offered more by companies, the marketing of these products is not directed at children, but their parents instead

    While the healthier “Regular Cheerios” is marketed at parents, the higher sugar ones are marketed at kids

Co-author Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center, said:

“While cereal companies have made small improvements to the nutrition of their child-targeted cereals, these cereals are still far worse than the products they market to adults. They have 56% more sugar, half as much fiber, and 50% more sodium.

The companies know how to make a range of good-tasting cereals that aren’t loaded with sugar and salt. Why can’t they help parents out and market these directly to children instead?”

Co-author Kelly Brownell, who is director of the Rudd Center, said:

“It is obvious that industry regulating itself is a failure. If there is to be any hope of protecting children from predatory marketing, either public outcry or government action will be necessary to force the companies to change.”

The authors wrote that cereal companies had pledged to help be part of the solution to America’s serious childhood obesity problem. However, making pledges means sticking to them – making token sugar and sodium reductions on some products while aggressively ramping up marketing campaigns on cereals that make children more unhealthy and fatter will only fuel the current obesity epidemic.

A cereal which has one spoonful of sugar to every three of cereal is an unhealthy products and children should be avoiding them.

Child-targeted advertising should switch from high-sugar cereals to more nutritious ones.

The authors wrote:

“Our question remains, why don’t cereal companies market Frosted Mini-Wheats or regular Cheerios directly to children using cartoon characters and fun, cool themes? It may increase corporate profits to convince children that they must have Reese’s Puffs or Froot Loops, but why is it acceptable?

The three large cereal companies should:

  • Considerably reduce the number of ads children see each year which promote high-sugar products
  • Use their considerable resources to encourage children to increase their consumption of healthier cereals

It is about time the cereal companies do the right thing for children’s health, they added.

Written by Christian Nordqvist