Cereal companies that pledged to cut sugar and increase whole grains in the 21 brands marketed to children are making progress, according to the industry's own estimate. Today, more than 70 percent of cereals marketed to kids have 10 grams or less of sugar and 33 percent have 9 grams or less, an industry self-regulatory group said Tuesday.
In the battle against obesity, cereals, as the second most advertised food to children, are a top target. The changes in cereal brands have been made since July 2011 when the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, the ad industry's self-regulation program administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, issued new, stricter nutritional guidelines for foods marketed to children. Companies have until 2013 to bring sugar down to 10 grams (the prior limit was 12 grams) while providing at least a half serving of whole grains, or 10 percent of an essential vitamin or nutrient.
"This category is getting better all the time," said Elaine Kolish, director of the CFBAI, which provided an update on the industry's compliance with the new guidelines. "Part of our mission was to have steady, ongoing improvement."
Post, for example, modified its formulation of Pebbles Boulders, reducing sugar to 8 grams and raising whole grains to 15 or 16 grams, depending on the brand. Sugar in Alpha Bits was reduced from 10 to 6 grams and whole grains were increased from 8 to 20 grams.
All of General Mills' kids cereals, such as Honey Nut Cheerios and Trix, have more whole grains than any other ingredient.
The sugar content for the five remaining cereal brands (two are at 12 grams and three are at 11 grams) have until the end of next year to make changes. The companies can also choose not to advertise those brands to children.
Nutrition advocates acknowledged that cereal companies have made progress but said there was more work to be done. "The level they should be working toward is 6 grams," said Margo Wootan, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Nine grams doesn't sound bad, but it means a typical serving is one-third sugar."
Wootan also said that on average, the cereals marketed to children are less healthy than those marketed to adults. "They're higher in sugar by over 50 percent," she said.
A six-year-old self-regulatory group, CFBAI was formed in response to a growing movement to help curb childhood obesity. Just as the government was proposing voluntary guidelines for marketing food to children, CFBAI unveiled its updated nutrition guidelines in July 2011, effectively giving the government a reason to back down from its proposal.