More reasons why Big Food deserves a special place in hell

From Medical News Today:

New research being presented at an obesity conference this week found that the cereals that are most frequently and aggressively marketed directly to American children as young as 2 were also the least healthy.

The study, reported in The Cereal Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score (FACTS) Report, was part funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and was conducted by researchers from Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. It is being presented at Obesity 2009, the 27th annual scientific meeting of The Obesity Society, in Washington on 27 October.

The researchers evaluated the nutrient composition and marketing of 115 cereal brands and 277 individual varieties and concluded there was pervasive targeting of children across all media platforms and in stores. The nutrition scoring system they used was developed by Oxford University.

Cereal manufacturers spend nearly 156 million dollars every year on marketing their cereals to children on television. They also market extensively on the Internet, in stores, through social media and on packaging, said the researchers.

19 of the brands (covering 47 varieties) were categorized as “child brands” because they marketed their cereals directly to children via television, the Internet, or through licensed fictional characters such as Dora the Explorer.

Lead investigator Dr Jennifer L Harris, director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center, told the press that:

“This research demonstrates just how far cereal companies have gone to target children in almost everything they do.”

The total amount of breakfast cereal marketing to children on television and computer screens, and at their eye-level in stores, combined with the appalling nutrient profile of the cereals most frequently marketed, is staggering,” she added.

The researchers found that not one the cereals targeted to children in the US meets the nutrition standard required to advertise to children in the United Kingdom.

Among its findings the report highlighted that:

  • The average preschool child sees 642 cereal ads per year on television, and almost all of these are for cereals with the worst nutrition rankings.
  • On the Internet, cereal companies make heavy use of marketing by sponsoring cereal websites and “advergames”.For example,, the website sponsored by General Mills, averages over three quarters of a million unique young visitors a month, who on average stay on the site for 24 minutes per visit.
  • The most frequent in-store advertiser was Kellogg, averaging 33.3 promotions per store and 9.5 special displays of its child and family brands over the 4-week period covered by the study.
  • General Mills markets to children more than any other cereal company and makes 6 of the 10 least healthy cereals advertised to children, including Reese’s Puffs, which is 41 per cent sugar and attracted the worst nutrition score.
  • Cereals marketed directly to children have 85 per cent more sugar, 65 per cent less fiber, and 60 per cent more sodium than cereals marketed to adults for adult consumption.
  • 42 per cent of cereals targeted at children contain artificial food dyes compared with 26 per cent of family cereals and 5 per cent of adult cereals.
  • Only 8 per cent of the cereals targeted directly to children are inside the sugar limits that would allow them to qualify for inclusion in the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
  • Not one of the cereals targeted directly to children in the US meets the nutrition standard required to advertise to children in the United Kingdom.
  • All cereals marketed directly to children meet the industry’s own nutrition standard for “better-for-you” foods. (And we know what bullshit that is.) These include: Cocoa Puffs (44 per cent sugar), Cap’n Crunch (44 per cent sugar), Froot Loops (41 per cent sugar), Lucky Charms (41 per cent sugar) and Cinnamon Toast Crunch (32 per cent sugar).

Although the food industry has pledged to reduce marketing of unhealthy products to children via the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) sponsored by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, it appears to have had limited effect on the amount of cereal advertising to children on television, said the researchers.

“Ceding authority to the food companies to regulate themselves is a mistake,” said Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Dr Kelly Brownell. [No shit!?]

Dr Jim Marks, senior vice president and director of the Health Group, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said: “While cereal can be a healthy and convenient breakfast for children, this study shows that cereal companies are targeting children with their least healthy products. Clearly there’s a lot of room for improvement.” [No shit again?!]

The report said children will eat unsweetened cereals if they are offered and it has proof of that. According to ABC News, Brownell said there were ways to train children to eat healthier food, “it’s all about what they’re exposed to”.

Food industry representatives interviewed by ABC News commented variously on the report. [No shit, really, I mean it this time?!]

Elanie Kolish, of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative disagreed with the report’s findings. She said she didn’t know how they came to arrive at the conclusions about the nutrition value of the children’s cereals covered by the Initiative because they are “low in calories” and “they provide an important source of these nutrients for kids’ diets”.

Kris Charles, a spokesman for Kellogg, said that children’s cereals that did not meet the company’s new Global Nutrient Criteria were recently either reformulated or the company stopped marketing them to children under 12. He also said in the last three years the company had reduced its advertising to the under 12s by 50 per cent.

General Mills’ spokeswoman Heidi Geller said that from a calorie and nutrient standpoint: “Cereal may be the best breakfast choice you could make. [What, if your other option is eating hydrochloric acid?] In fact, kids who eat cereal more frequently, including presweetened cereals, tend to weigh less than kids who eat cereal less frequently – and they are better nourished.”