Yale Rudd Center: Kids’ cereal has improved; marketing hasn’t

A report from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity shows that, while cereal companies have improved the nutritional content of the products they market to children, they also have increased advertising for many of their least nutritious offerings.

Yale recently released its latest Cereal FACTS report, detailing the nutritional quality and marketing of cereal products aimed at kids. The detailed findings will be presented on Sunday, June 24, during the Biennial Conference of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The first Cereal FACTS report, released in 2009, found that cereals marketed to children contained 85 percent more sugar, 65 percent less fiber, and 60 percent more sodium than products marketed to adults. In addition, children saw more advertising for cereals than for any other food or beverage product.
The average preschooler viewed 1.7 cereal ads on TV every day.

The 2012 report shows that, from 2008 to 2011, total media spending to promote child-targeted cereals increased by 34 percent. The new study also shows that children’s exposure to TV ads increased for seven child-targeted cereals, including Kellogg’s Froot Loops, General Mills’ Reese’s Puffs and
Trix and Post’s Pebbles.

But amid all that bad news, there were some bright spots. Mainly, the study found that 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. At least one company, General Mills, improved the nutritional quality of all its child-targeted brands.

Companies also 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 also viewed fewer TV ads for 7 of 14 child-targeted brands, including Corn Pops and Honeycomb.

Researchers measured youths’ exposure to TV and Internet advertising from all cereal companies by using syndicated data from Nielsen and comScore, Inc., as well as independent analyses. Despite the positive changes, in press release about the findings Yale researchers said there’s still much progress to be made.

“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?”

Here are some more tidbits from the report.

  • Post launched a new Pebbles advergame website, and General Mills launched new sites for Honey Nut Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
  • Kellogg nearly 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.
  • Companies increased advertising to Hispanic youth. Spending on Spanish-language TV advertising for all cereals more than doubled, and Hispanic children’s exposure to these ads tripled. Cereal companies launched new Spanish-language TV campaigns for seven brands, including Froot Loops and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
  • 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.

The full report and tools for consumers and researchers are available at www.cerealfacts.org.

Amanda Cuda