Washington, D.C. – Eating a bowl of kids’ cereal every day would add up to eating 10 pounds of sugar a year, according to a new Environmental Working Group analysis of more than 1,500 cereals, including 181 marketed for children.
Virtually all of the cold cereals contained added sugar, but kids’ cereals were especially prone to extreme sweetening. The average “serving” – an unrealistically small amount, in most cases – had nearly as much sugar as three Chips Ahoy! cookies, the analysis found.
Children’s cereal contained an average of 40 percent more sugar per “serving” than adult cereals. Because the “serving” size given on the label does not reflect what Americans actually consume, people who eat sweetened cereal every day can wind up with much higher sugar intakes.
“When you exclude obviously sugar-heavy foods like candy, cookies, ice cream, soft and fruit drinks, breakfast cereals are the single greatest source of added sugars in the diets of children under the age of eight,” nutritionist and EWG consultant Dawn Undurraga, co-author of the organization’s new report, Children’s Cereals: Sugar by the Pound, said. “Cereals that pack in as much sugar as junk food should not be considered part of a healthy breakfast or diet. Kids already eat two to three times the amount of sugar experts recommend.”
Researchers used EWG’s comprehensive food database – which is due out this fall – to determine the sugar content in each cereal. The EWG food database is being built on data gathered by FoodEssentials, a company that compiles details about the ingredients in foods sold in American supermarkets. Rankings were calculated by comparing the total sugar content by weight with guidelines issued by federal health agencies and other organizations.
They compiled EWG’s “Hall of Shame,” a dozen cereals that are more than 50 percent sugar by weight. These are:
- Kellogg’s Honey Smacks
- Malt-O-Meal Golden Puffs
- Mom’s Best Cereals Honey-Ful Wheat
- Malt-O-Meal Berry Colossal Crunch with Marshmallows
- Post Golden Crisp
- Grace Instant Green Banana Porridge
- Blanchard & Blanchard Granola
- Lieber’s Cocoa Frosted Flakes
- Lieber’s Honey Ringee Os
- Food Lion Sugar Frosted Wheat Puffs
- Krasdale Fruity Circles
- Safeway Kitchens Silly Circles
The researchers re-evaluated the 84 popular children’s cereals analyzed in the group’s 2011 report, Sugar in Children’s Cereals, and found that not a single cereal on its “worst” list had lowered its sugar content.
EWG has called on the federal Food and Drug Administration to update its cereal serving size regulations to reflect current consumption data. Last March, the FDA proposed calling out added sugars and requiring manufacturers list larger and more realistic serving sizes on the labels of some packaged foods. But the agency left cereal serving sizes untouched, even though its scientists estimate that the average person eats 30 percent more than the serving size given on the boxes of the most common cereals.
The EWG report found that most of the sugary children’s cereals make nutritional claims or tout their whole-grain, fiber, vitamin or mineral content, evidently aiming to persuade parents that these products are worth buying.
“Parents read nutrition claims on the side of the cereal box and think they are feeding nutritious food to their kids,” said Renee Sharp, EWG’s Research Director. “That’s why the federal government and food manufacturers need to hear from us. We hope the report will empower Americans to use their voices and buying dollars to demand better choices and a limit on how much sugar is added to food products that are marketed as ‘healthy’.”
Of 181 children’s cereals, only 10 met EWG’s criteria for low sugar, among them Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, General Mills Cheerios, Post 123 Sesame Street (C is for Cereal) and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
EWG released the report on the heels of the new documentary FED UP, which recounts efforts by the food industry to mislead and confuse the American public about the causes of childhood obesity.
“Whether at home, in schools, or in the grocery store aisles, the deck is stacked against families trying to make healthier decisions,” said Laurie David, producer of FED UP. “We need to get real about food in this country, and that starts with using smart tools like this analysis from EWG. It's time to rethink breakfast so that we don't send our kids off to start their day already over the daily maximum amount of sugar they can safely consume.”
To reduce sugar consumption, EWG recommends reading nutrition labels, buying cereals with no more than a teaspoon (equivalent to 4 grams) per serving, preparing unsweetened hot cereals and eating fruit or other whole foods with no added sugar.