WITH an announcement that it plans to cut the amount of sugar in 10 of its cereals, General Mills has acknowledged what Mom and Dad have been saying for years: There is too much sweet stuff in the breakfast foods that kids beg them to buy.
General Mills, which already has cut the sugar content in some brands, has committed to limiting the levels of sugar to less than 10 grams per serving in the cereals it markets to children. This represents an improvement in a sector of the food market that for too long has taken advantage of the gullibility of the nation's youngest consumers.
A study released in October by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University concluded that the least healthy cereals are the ones that have been marketed the most to children through television commercials, online games, and in-store displays. The study said that six of the 10 worst brands belong to General Mills: Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Nut Cheerios, Trix, Reese's Puffs, and Cocoa Puffs.
Most parents would be upset if they found an adult had been whispering unhealthy suggestions to their children while Mom and Dad were out of the room, yet that is exactly what U.S. food manufacturers have done for decades through their advertising campaigns for sugary cereals, drinks, and snacks. According to the Rudd study, the average American preschooler sees 642 cereal ads per year, most of them for the least healthful breakfast products.
The study found that all cereal manufacturers have products that earned good nutrition scores but that few of those are marketed to children. Yet it also concluded that children will eat cereal that contains less sugar. Even if they add table sugar to these products, the study found, the youngsters consume less sugar, and therefore fewer calories per serving, than they do when eating the highly sweetened products.
In a nation where 16 percent of children are obese, the last thing America needs is extra sugar for breakfast. What consumers do need is more and better nutritional information.
There is so much confusion that a food industry group in October voluntarily halted promotion of its "Smart Choices" labeling system after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said there are too many competing programs with different criteria.
The industry must adopt meaningful standards that give consumers clear, quantifiable data to guide their food choices.
Sometimes even Mom and Dad don't have all the answers.