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Examining the Nutritional Quality of Breakfast Cereals Marketed to Children

      Abstract

      There are both public health and food industry initiatives aimed at increasing breakfast consumption among children, particularly the consumption of ready-to-eat cereals. The purpose of this study was to determine whether there were identifiable differences in nutritional quality between cereals that are primarily marketed to children and cereals that are not marketed to children. Of the 161 cereals identified between January and February 2006, 46% were classified as being marketed to children (eg, packaging contained a licensed character or contained an activity directed at children). Multivariate analyses of variance were used to compare children’s cereals and nonchildren’s cereals with respect to their nutritional content, focusing on nutrients required to be reported on the Nutrition Facts panel (including energy). Compared to nonchildren’s cereals, children’s cereals were denser in energy, sugar, and sodium, but were less dense in fiber and protein. The proportion of children’s and nonchildren’s cereals that did and did not meet national nutritional guidelines for foods served in schools were compared using χ2analysis. The majority of children’s cereals (66%) failed to meet national nutrition standards, particularly with respect to sugar content. t tests were used to compare the nutritional quality of children’s cereals with nutrient-content claims and health claims to those without such claims. Although the specific claims were generally justified by the nutritional content of the product, there were few differences with respect to the overall nutrition profile. Overall, there were important differences in nutritional quality between children’s cereals and nonchildren’s cereals. Dietary advice for children to increase consumption of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals should identify and recommend those cereals with the best nutrient profiles.
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      Biography

      M. B. Schwartz is a senior research scientist and K. D. Brownell is a professor, Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT.

      Biography

      L. R. Vartanian is a visiting assistant professor, Department of Psychology, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY.

      Biography

      C. M. Wharton is an assistant professor, Department of Nutrition, Arizona State University, Mesa. At the time of the study, L. R. Vartanian and C. M. Wharton were postdoctoral researchers, Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT.

      Linked Article

      • To the Editor
        Journal of the American Dietetic AssociationVol. 108Issue 10
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          Schwartz and colleagues (1) compared breakfast cereals marketed to children (“children's cereals”) to other ready-to-eat cereals (RTECs) (“nonchildren's cereals”) and found that children's cereals were denser in energy, sugar, and sodium, and less dense in fiber and protein. The authors stated that “dietary advice for children to increase consumption of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals should identify and recommend those cereals with the best nutrient profiles.” The implication seems to be that children's cereals should be less recommended than nonchildren's cereals.
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      • Authors' Response
        Journal of the American Dietetic AssociationVol. 108Issue 10
        • Preview
          In response to our paper addressing the nutritional quality of children's cereals (1), several people wrote and raised important points. One of the issues raised was the importance of assessing ready-to-eat cereals (RTECs) “dispassionately and objectively in examining decades of scholarly research.” We agree that an objective review of this literature is needed, and it is critical to have a review conducted by researchers not funded by the cereal industry (2,3). There is evidence that industry-funded research tends to report findings favorable to that industry [for examples, see reviews on tobacco (4), pharmaceutical (5), and beverage research (6,7)].
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      • To the Editor
        Journal of the American Dietetic AssociationVol. 108Issue 10
        • Preview
          The article “Examining the Nutritional Quality of Breakfast Cereals Marketed to Children” in the April 2008 issue of the Journal (1) overlooked several key elements in the assessment of the nutritional quality of the ready-to-eat cereal (RTEC).
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      • Concern over Ready-to-Eat Breakfast Cereals
        Journal of the American Dietetic AssociationVol. 108Issue 10
        • Preview
          The Research and Professional Brief published in the April 2008 issue of the Journal entitled “Examining the Nutritional Quality of Breakfast Cereals Marketed to Children” (1) is of concern. The authors concluded that “the majority of children's cereals failed to meet national nutrition standards, particularly with respect to sugar content.” Thus, they recommend that “dietary advice for children to increase consumption of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals should identify and recommend those cereals with the best nutrient profiles.” This study is limited since it addresses neither intake nor the contribution of vitamins and minerals to the diet of ready-to-eat cereal (RTEC) consumers.
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