Cereal FACTS 2012: A Spoonful of Progress in a Bowl Full of Unhealthy Marketing to Kids
Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series that will highlight the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s work in Latino communities across the country.
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.
Spending on Spanish-language TV advertising for all cereals has more than doubled, and Hispanic children’s exposure to those ads has tripled. In addition, cereal companies launched new Spanish-language TV campaigns for seven brands, including Froot Loops and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
The Cereal FACTS report quantifies changes in the nutritional quality of cereals and children’s exposure to cereal marketing after companies pledged to reduce marketing of unhealthy products to children.
“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,” said lead researcher Jennifer L. Harris, director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center.
The new Cereal FACTS report, which was supported by grants from RWJF and the Rudd Foundation, documents changes in industry practices since the first study in 2009. Additional findings include:
Companies increased child-targeted advertising for some of their least nutritious products:
- Children viewed more TV ads for seven of 14 child-targeted brands, including Reese’s Puffs, Froot Loops, and Pebbles.
- Post launched a new Pebbles advergame website, and General Mills launched new sites for Honey Nut Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
- Kellogg more than doubled banner advertising on children’s websites, such as Nickelodeon.com and Neopets.com, for its child-targeted brands. General Mills also increased banner advertising for four child-targeted brands, including Honey Nut Cheerios and Lucky Charms.
- Kellogg introduced the first food company advergame for mobile phones and tablets targeted to children for Apple Jacks.
Changes for the better
Companies improved the nutritional quality of most cereals marketed to children:
- Overall nutritional quality improved for 13 of the 14 brands advertised to children. 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.
Companies reduced child-targeted advertising for some products:
- Millsberry.com and Postopia.com, the two most-visited children’s advergame sites, were discontinued. Due to the elimination of Millsberry.com, General Mills decreased banner advertising on children’s websites by 43 percent.
- Children viewed fewer TV ads for seven of 14 child-targeted brands, including Corn Pops and Honeycomb.
More of the same
Companies continue to aggressively market their least nutritious products directly to children:
- Companies do offer more nutritious and lower-sugar cereals for children, like regular Cheerios and Frosted Mini-Wheats, but they are marketed to parents, not children.
“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 percent more sugar, half as much fiber, and 50 percent more sodium,” said co-author Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center. “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?”
The full report and tools for consumers and researchers are available at www.cerealfacts.org. Report findings specific to Hispanic and black youth can be found on page 27 of the full report.
Follow the Rudd Center and the conversation on Twitter at @YaleRuddCenter with the hashtag #cerealfacts.
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