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Video: Study: Too much sugar in kids’ cereals

TODAY contributor
updated 10/2/2009 1:30:16 PM ET 2009-10-02T17:30:16

We’ve all heard the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day — but who knew it also could be the most sugary?

A new analysis by Consumer Reports found that 11 popular breakfast cereals contain at least 40 percent sugar by weight. That’s at least as much sugar as you’d get in a glazed doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts.

Two cereals — Post Golden Crisp and Kellogg’s Honey Smacks — contain more than 50 percent sugar by weight.

The authors of the report note that many sugary cereals are marketed heavily to children — and that many children tend to pour more cereal for themselves than the suggested serving sizes on most cereal boxes. That means thousands of children and teens are loading up on even more grams of sugar before they head off to school each day.

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Out of 27 cereals analyzed, four — Cheerios, Kix, Life and Honey Nut Cheerios — were found to have relatively low sugar content and high quantities of dietary fiber. Consumer Reports rated those four brands “Very Good” in its report.

“If you’re shopping for a kids’ cereal, try one of the Very Good cereals in our ratings,” said Gayle Williams, deputy editor of Consumer Reports Health. “Be sure to read the product labels, and choose cereals that are high in fiber and low in sugar and sodium. Served with milk and fruit, these cereals can be part of a well-balanced, nutritious breakfast.”

Who’s really eating this stuff?
The makers of the most sugary cereals analyzed in the report said they produce a wide variety of breakfast fare to appeal to many taste preferences. One cereal manufacturer, Post, also pointed out that much of its sweetened cereal gets gobbled up by adults.

“Our consumption data indicates Golden Crisp is consumed by far more adults than children,” Post said in a statement. “Regarding Post Golden Crisp, this cereal is not advertised through television, print, digital or radio media if we believe the related media content is geared for kids under the age of 12.”

Consumer Reports also found that an estimated 58 percent of “children’s” cereals are eaten by adults.

Kellogg — the maker of Honey Smacks as well as Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Krispies, Froot Loops and other well-known cereal brands — said consumers need to take charge of the amount of sugars and calories they eat in a given day.

“We … believe that balance or ‘calories in, calories out’ must remain the central tenet of achieving weight management and a healthy lifestyle,” Kellogg said in a statement.

To read full statements from the makers of major cereal brands, click here .

Less sugar in European cereal bowls
In a 32-nation study sponsored by International Consumer Research & Testing and Consumers International, researchers found that some of the most sugary cereal brands marketed in the United States contain less sugar when sold overseas.

For instance, Honey Smacks sold in Germany, Switzerland and Slovenia contain about 40 percent sugar, compared with 55 percent in its U.S. counterpart.

Serving sizes also contribute to higher sugar intake in the United States. In its report, which will be featured in the magazine’s November issue, Consumer Reports studied the way 91 youths between the ages of 6 to 16 poured cereal into their bowls. On average, they poured about 50 percent to 65 percent more than the suggested serving sizes.

What’s a parent to do?
Despite the not-so-sweet news in the cereal report, breakfast truly can be the most important meal of the day — for both children and adults. People who eat breakfast tend to have superior overall nutrition, enhanced cognitive performance and fewer weight issues.

Because a serving of cereal can be such a convenient and quick way to gulp down whole grains, parents can continue to offer up bowls of the crunchy stuff to their kids each morning. Experts stress the importance of reading product labels and watching sugar and sodium levels, and they suggest sweetening cereals with fresh fruits whenever possible.

If you just can’t get your kid to give up his or her favorite sugary cereal, at least try keeping an eye on portion sizes. One possible way to tackle that issue? Buy smaller bowls.

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