Kids’ Breakfast Cereals as Nutritional Façade

Kids’ Breakfast Cereals as Nutritional Façade
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Plastering front-of-package nutrient claims on cereal boxes is an attempt to distract from the incongruity of feeding our children multicolored marshmallows for breakfast.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The American Medical Association started warning people about excess sugar consumption over 75 years ago, based in part on our understanding that “sugar supplies nothing in nutrition but calories, and the vitamins provided by other foods are sapped by sugar to liberate these calories.” Hence, added sugars aren’t just empty calories, but like negative nutrition—the more added sugars one consumes, the more nutritionally depleted one may become.

Given the totality of scientific evidence, the FDA decided to make processed food manufacturers declare “added sugars” on the nutrition facts label. The National Yogurt Association was livid, opposing the added sugars declaration, since they needed “added sugars” to increase their products’ palatability. The junk food association questioned the science…whereas the ice cream folks seemed to imply consumers would be too stupid to use it, so, better leave it off. The world’s biggest cereal company, Kellogg’s, took a similar tact, opposing it so as not to confuse the consumer, and should the FDA proceed with such labeling against their objections, added sugars should at most be “communicated in a footnote.” See, their goal is to provide consumers with “useful information so they can make informed choices.” This from a company that describes their Froot Loops as “packed with delicious fruity taste, fruity aroma, and bright colors. Made with whole grains and ‘lightly sweetened,’ a good source of fiber.”

Lightly sweetened? Froot Loops has more sugar than a Krispy Kreme doughnut…. Froot Loops is more than 40% sugar by weight.

The tobacco industry used similar terms, such as “light,” “low,” and “mild” to make their products appear healthier before they were recently barred from doing so. Now, sugar interests are fighting similar battles over whether their “healthy,” “natural,” and “lightly sweetened” terminology is similarly deceptive.

But just look at all those vitamins and minerals they added. That was one of the ways the cereal companies responded to calls for banning sugary cereals. General Mills defended the likes of Franken Berry, Trix, and Lucky Charms for being fortified with essential vitamins. Sir Grapefellow, I learned, was a grape-flavored cereal complete with sweet grape starbit marshmallows––but don’t worry, it was “vitamin charged.”

Sugary breakfast cereals, said Dr. Jean Mayer from Harvard, are not a complete food even if fortified with eight or 10 vitamins. “I think your point is well taken,” replied Senator McGovern, “that these products may be mislabeled, perhaps more correctly called candy vitamins than cereals.”

Plastering nutrient claims on the box can create a “nutritional facade,” acting to distract attention away from unsavory qualities, such as excess sugar content. The majority of parents have been found to misinterpret the meaning of claims commonly used on children’s cereals, raising significant public health concerns…. Ironically, cereal boxes bearing low-calorie claims were found to have more calories on average than those without such a claim; so, it’s like the cereal doth protest too much.

Even candy bar companies are getting in on the action, bragging about their protein content because it has some peanuts, but it’s also a candy bar, with 50 grams of sugar, just like Froot Loops could be considered breakfast candy, as the same serving would have 40….

Given research suggesting “consumers believe front-of-package claims, perceive them to be government-endorsed, and use them to ignore the Nutrition Facts Panel” on the back, there’s been a call from nutrition professionals to consider “an outright ban on all front-of-package claims.” The industry’s short-lived Smart Choices label was met with disbelief when it was found adorning qualifying cereals like Froot Loops and Cookie Crisp. The processed food industry spent more than a billion dollars lobbying against the adoption of more informative labeling, a traffic-light approach, railing against the suggestion that “any food [might be] too high in anything.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: twinsfisch via unsplash. Image has been modified.

Video production by Glass Entertainment.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The American Medical Association started warning people about excess sugar consumption over 75 years ago, based in part on our understanding that “sugar supplies nothing in nutrition but calories, and the vitamins provided by other foods are sapped by sugar to liberate these calories.” Hence, added sugars aren’t just empty calories, but like negative nutrition—the more added sugars one consumes, the more nutritionally depleted one may become.

Given the totality of scientific evidence, the FDA decided to make processed food manufacturers declare “added sugars” on the nutrition facts label. The National Yogurt Association was livid, opposing the added sugars declaration, since they needed “added sugars” to increase their products’ palatability. The junk food association questioned the science…whereas the ice cream folks seemed to imply consumers would be too stupid to use it, so, better leave it off. The world’s biggest cereal company, Kellogg’s, took a similar tact, opposing it so as not to confuse the consumer, and should the FDA proceed with such labeling against their objections, added sugars should at most be “communicated in a footnote.” See, their goal is to provide consumers with “useful information so they can make informed choices.” This from a company that describes their Froot Loops as “packed with delicious fruity taste, fruity aroma, and bright colors. Made with whole grains and ‘lightly sweetened,’ a good source of fiber.”

Lightly sweetened? Froot Loops has more sugar than a Krispy Kreme doughnut…. Froot Loops is more than 40% sugar by weight.

The tobacco industry used similar terms, such as “light,” “low,” and “mild” to make their products appear healthier before they were recently barred from doing so. Now, sugar interests are fighting similar battles over whether their “healthy,” “natural,” and “lightly sweetened” terminology is similarly deceptive.

But just look at all those vitamins and minerals they added. That was one of the ways the cereal companies responded to calls for banning sugary cereals. General Mills defended the likes of Franken Berry, Trix, and Lucky Charms for being fortified with essential vitamins. Sir Grapefellow, I learned, was a grape-flavored cereal complete with sweet grape starbit marshmallows––but don’t worry, it was “vitamin charged.”

Sugary breakfast cereals, said Dr. Jean Mayer from Harvard, are not a complete food even if fortified with eight or 10 vitamins. “I think your point is well taken,” replied Senator McGovern, “that these products may be mislabeled, perhaps more correctly called candy vitamins than cereals.”

Plastering nutrient claims on the box can create a “nutritional facade,” acting to distract attention away from unsavory qualities, such as excess sugar content. The majority of parents have been found to misinterpret the meaning of claims commonly used on children’s cereals, raising significant public health concerns…. Ironically, cereal boxes bearing low-calorie claims were found to have more calories on average than those without such a claim; so, it’s like the cereal doth protest too much.

Even candy bar companies are getting in on the action, bragging about their protein content because it has some peanuts, but it’s also a candy bar, with 50 grams of sugar, just like Froot Loops could be considered breakfast candy, as the same serving would have 40….

Given research suggesting “consumers believe front-of-package claims, perceive them to be government-endorsed, and use them to ignore the Nutrition Facts Panel” on the back, there’s been a call from nutrition professionals to consider “an outright ban on all front-of-package claims.” The industry’s short-lived Smart Choices label was met with disbelief when it was found adorning qualifying cereals like Froot Loops and Cookie Crisp. The processed food industry spent more than a billion dollars lobbying against the adoption of more informative labeling, a traffic-light approach, railing against the suggestion that “any food [might be] too high in anything.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: twinsfisch via unsplash. Image has been modified.

Video production by Glass Entertainment.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

Doctor's Note

I was invited to testify as an expert witness in a case against sugary cereal companies (donating my fee, of course), and this extended video series is a result of some of the research I did into those cases. Here’s are some of the others:

Lots of other food industry videos, too!:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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