Are food manufacturers to blame for rising rates of child obesity?  Some say yes.  And it’s hard to disagree when you look at some of the nutritional trash that gets advertised to our kids. Reese’s Puffs? Really?  I know it’s fortified, but is it really food?

A new report by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University shows cereals are the most common category of food advertised to kids – to the tune of $156 million in 2008.

The report also shows that the majority of these advertised cereals are incredibly unhealthy.  That’s why they should be considered occasional treats, not staples that become habits.

Did you know that cereals geared to children have 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber and 60% more sodium than cereals targeted to adults?

The average sugar content of cereals advertised to kids is 35%, but some cereals are more than 50% sugar.

Want to know which nutritional losers are most heavily marketed to our kids?  Here are the Yale team’s 10 worst advertising offenders:

  • Lucky Charms
  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch
  • Honey Nut Cheerios
  • Trix
  • Reese’s Puffs
  • Cocoa Puffs
  • Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles
  • Frosted Flakes
  • Corn Pops
  • Froot Loops

Honey Nut Cheerios?  You bet.  General Mills would have you believe that this gem is as good as the original, but it isn’t.

  • Cheerios, which the Yale team scores a 58 (out of 100 for top nutrition), is 3.6% sugar and 10.7% fiber.
  • Honey Nut Cheerios, which receives a score of 44, is 32.1% sugar and 7.1% fiber.

And here’s the kicker… Your kids never see the ads for regular Cheerios. Those are saved for parents. The other ads? They are targeted straight to your tykes.

There are better choices out there, but you probably think your kids won’t like them. Food manufacturers are counting on you to make that calculation.  Don’t play along.

It’s true that kids come predisposed to liking sweet foods but that doesn’t mean that’s all they’ll eat.  In fact, their taste buds are shaped by exposure more than anything else, so what you feed them really counts.  Give them sweet foods and that’s what they’ll demand, but give them less sugar and they’ll learn to like that too. It’s all about their habits.

What can you do?

  • Take nutritionist Marion Nestle’s advice and think of most cereals as cookies.  If you like your cereal sweet, buy an unsweetened kind and add your own sugar.
  • Pay attention to how often sweet is the flavor you feed your children and gradually wean them off it.
  • Teach your kids the truth about advertising – “It’s candy that the food makers want you to think is healthy.”
  • If your kids beg and whine for sweetened cereals, give it to them – occasionally.  Don’t make it a habit. Let your kids choose between sugary cereals and other sweet treats such as cookies, sweetened yogurt, and ice cream.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~



Harris, Jennifer L., et al. 2009. Cereal FACTS: Evaluating the Nutrition Quality and Marketing of Children’s Cereals. Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Yale University.  Accessed on October 29, 2009.

Nestle, M., 2006. What to Eat. New York: North Point Press.