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Cereal makers have made progress on nutrition – but spend more on advertising to children

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 22-Jun-2012

Cereal makers have made progress in improving the nutritional content of cereals marketed to children – but they have also increased child-directed advertising of some of their least nutritious products, according to a new report from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Food companies have been under increasing pressure to improve the nutritional quality of their products, particularly those consumed by children, as obesity rates have increased. Industry responded with the voluntary Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) in 2006, which aims to shift the mix of food and beverage advertising to children toward healthier options.

The researchers found that the nutritional content of child-directed cereals had improved by an average of 10% since they last examined the category in 2009 , but they found that those marketed directly to children still had 57% more sugar, 52% less fiber, and 50% more sodium than adult-targeted cereals.

The researchers also found that companies’ total media spending to promote child-targeted cereals had increased by 34% since their last report, from $197m in 2008 to $264m in 2011.

"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,” 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?”

CFBAI director Elaine Kolish said that she was pleased that the Rudd Center had acknowledged the improvements that companies have made since 2009, but said although there was more to be done, changing kids’ taste preferences takes time and effort.

“Before CFBAI was founded, some cereals had 15 or 16 grams of sugar; now most have no more than 10 grams per serving, and none have more than 12 grams,” she said in a statement. “…In 2012 many cereals that CFBAI participants advertise to children are even better than they were in 2011, when the Rudd Center conducted its analysis, and more changes are underway. CFBAI’s adoption of new uniform nutrition criteria, which go into effect in December 2013, will lead to further improvements.”

The researchers analyzed the nutritional quality of more than 100 brands and nearly 300 varieties of cereal alongside the scope of industry advertising on television, the internet, and social media sites.

More information, and the full Rudd Center report, is available online here .

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