Rudd Center Releases Cereal Rankings Based on Nutrition and Marketing Exposure
Companies market their least healthy breakfast cereals most frequently and aggressively directly to children, according to a new Rudd Center study released at the Obesity Society’s annual meeting in October. The study, supported in part by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant, found that cereal companies pervasively market to children through the media and in stores.
The study is the first comprehensive examination of company marketing efforts and cereal nutrient composition. Of the 115 cereal brands and 277 individual cereal varieties examined, researchers identified nineteen brands (comprised of 47 varieties) as “child brands” because the cereals are marketed directly to children on television, the Web, and through licensed characters.
Cereal companies spend nearly $156 million annually in television marketing to children. They also market extensively through the Web, social media, packaging, and in-store promotions.
“This research demonstrates just how far cereal companies have gone to target children in almost everything they do,” said lead researcher Jennifer L. Harris, PhD, MBA, and Rudd Center Director of Marketing Initiatives. ”The total amount of breakfast cereal marketing to children on television and computer screens, and at their eye-level in stores, combined with the appalling nutrient profile of the cereals most frequently marketed, is staggering.”
Key marketing exposure findings include:
- The average preschooler sees 642 cereal ads per year on television — almost all for cereals with the worst nutrition rankings.
- Companies make heavy use of online marketing through company-sponsored cereal Web sites and “advergames.” General Mills’ Web site, Millsberry.com, averages 767,000 unique young monthly visitors who stay an average of nearly 24 minutes per visit. Postopia.com averages nearly 265,000 young visitors.
- Kellogg — the most frequent in-store advertiser — averaged 33.3 promotions per store and 9.5 special displays for its child and family brands during the four-week period examined.
- General Mills markets to children more than any other cereal company. The company makes six of the ten least healthy cereals advertised to children, including the one with the worst nutrition score — Reese’s Puffs, which consists of 41 percent sugar.
Key nutrition findings include:
- Cereals marketed directly to children have 85 percent more sugar, 65 percent less fiber, and 60 percent more sodium than cereals marketed to adults for adult consumption.
- Forty-two percent of child-targeted cereals contain artificial food dyes, compared with 26 percent of family cereals and five percent of adult cereals.
- Of the cereals targeted directly to children, only eight percent meet sugar limits to qualify for inclusion in the USDA’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Not one meets the nutrition standards required to advertise to children in the United Kingdom.
- All cereals marketed directly to children meet industry’s own nutrition standards for “better-for-you” foods. They include Cocoa Puffs (44 percent sugar), Cap’n Crunch (44 percent sugar), Froot Loops (41 percent sugar), Lucky Charms (41 percent sugar), and Cinnamon Toast Crunch (32 percent sugar).
Most of the largest food marketers have pledged to reduce marketing of poor nutrition products to children through the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) sponsored by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The Rudd Center research shows that the CFBAI has not significantly reduced the amount of cereal advertising to children on television.
“Ceding authority to the food companies to regulate themselves is a mistake,” said Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director. “The companies want to be seen as public health allies making good faith efforts to change, but their actions indicate otherwise.”
Added Jim Marks, MD, MPH, Senior Vice President and Director of the Health Group, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: “While cereal can be a healthy and convenient breakfast for children, this study shows that cereal companies are targeting children with their least healthy products. Clearly there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Yale Course on Food Offered to Public Online
An undergraduate Yale course, “The Psychology, Biology, and Politics of Food,” is offered for public viewing online through "Open Yale Courses," the University's free educational initiative. Recorded in its entirety and available in high definition video and audio formats, the Fall 2008 course was taught by Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director and Yale Professor of Psychology, and Epidemiology and Public Health.
The course covers the fundamental reasons people eat what they do; the psychological, health, social, economic, and political drivers of modern food practices; and how conditions can change to improve global health, personal well-being, and the environment. Topics include:
- Food Preferences and Aversions
- Impact of Biology on Eating
- Nutrition and Health
- Eating Disorders and Obesity
- Effects of Food Advertising
- The Economics of Nutrition
- Sustainability and Genetically-Modified Foods
- Global Food Politics
Guest lecturers include Brian Wansink, PhD, from Cornell University; B. Timothy Walsh, MD, from Columbia University; and Stephen Teret, JD, MPH, from Johns Hopkins University.
The California Soda Tax Solution
Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director, and David S. Ludwig, MD, Harvard Medical School, took to the Los Angeles Times opinion pages to urge California lawmakers to adopt a penny-per-ounce levy on sugar-sweetened beverages. Drs. Brownell and Ludwig, leading health experts, and are part of a prominent group that recently published a sugar-sweetened beverage tax policy strategy in the New England Journal of Medicine.
In their LA Times op-ed piece, “The Soda Tax Solution,” Brownell and Ludwig argued that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would raise the revenue needed to fund health care programs and lower health care costs in the future. California would serve as the “test case that proves it once and for all.” The penny-per-ounce tax would raise $150 billion nationally, and $18 billion in California alone. These numbers are striking particularly in light of the “Bubbling Over: Soda Consumption and Its Link to Obesity in California” report, which showed that 62 percent of adolescents drink at least one soda every day. The report also revealed that adults who drink a soda or more per day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight than those who do not drink sodas.
The California Center for Public Health Advocacy recently confirmed that the costs of adult overweight, obesity and physical activity in the state of California are now approximately $41 billion per annum. The California Senate Joint Hearing on Obesity and Diabetes held in early November provided a forum for government, industry, and healthy policy groups to gather and deliberate on this public health issue. Dr. Brownell provided testimony on the relationship between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and health. He outlined the science behind the penny-per-ounce tax and implored government leaders to resist industry backlash and take action.
Federal Nutrition Programs to Receive Billions More in Funding
President Obama has signed a $121 billion agriculture appropriations bill for the current fiscal year. Nutrition programs will receive $82.8 billion, a $6.6 billion increase from 2009. The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal food stamp program, and U.S. dairy farmers are among the groups that will receive a significant increase in funds. This is welcome news as the market price of dairy products has dipped well below operating costs and more people are relying on government food programs because of high unemployment rates. Recent statistics show that almost one in eight Americans receives food stamps.
The agricultural appropriations bill, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), included $16.9 billion for child nutrition programs. The bill also provides an additional $209.5 million for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program.
President Obama’s signature on this bill coincided with an event to promote healthy eating and exercise hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the White House lawn. Both moves strengthen the government’s commitment to help improve the nation’s health.
Upcoming Seminar Speakers
November 11, 12:30 pm: Boyd Swinburn, MD
RESCHEDULED FOR SPRING SEMINAR SERIES
December 9, 12:30 pm: Gary E. Knell, JD
Our seminars are at the Rudd Center, located at 309 Edwards Street in New Haven, Connecticut, 06511. They are free and open to the public. Seating is limited. The full schedule for our Fall Seminar Series is available online and for download as a PDF document.
To receive a weekly E-mail from the Rudd Center detailing upcoming seminars and schedule changes, click here.
Spotlight on Rudd Center Affiliated Faculty: Robert L. Bell, MD, MA
Robert L. Bell, MD, MA, is Associate Professor of Surgery and Director of Bariatric Surgery at the Yale School of Medicine and Attending Surgeon at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Dr. Bell’s surgical specialty is gastrointestinal surgery. His clinical interests include gastrointestinal surgery with a particular focus on bariatric surgery for morbidly obese patients.
He performs most of his surgeries using a minimally invasive technique. He is one of a few surgeons in Connecticut who performs revisionary (“re-do”) obesity surgeries. Shortly after he arrived at Yale in 2002, he started the bariatric surgery program at Yale-New Haven Hospital where weight loss surgery had yet to be performed. He is the most senior bariatric surgeon at Yale-New Haven Hospital and has assumed leadership roles at both the Yale School of Medicine and Yale-New Haven Hospital. The American Society of Bariatric Surgery has recognized the Yale-New Haven Hospital as a bariatric surgery Center of Excellence. Oversight of the Center of Excellence includes preoperative counseling and review of potential weight loss surgery candidates, performance of a variety of weight loss surgical procedures, and post-operative follow-up. All long-term outcome measures are prospectively and longitudinally followed, including post-procedure weight loss and co-morbidity resolution. In addition, Dr. Bell’s bariatric practice is one of only 40 practices selected nationally to participate in the University HealthSystem Consortium (UHC). Participation in the UHC establishes “benchmarks” to improve clinical, operational, and patient safety performance.
Dr. Bell earned his medical degree from Texas A&M University College of Medicine, graduating with honors, and completed his internship and residency in general surgery at the Yale School of Medicine. He completed a fellowship in minimally-invasive and bariatric surgery at the University of Maryland. He has received many honors and awards for his work, including Outstanding Surgical House Staff Teacher at the Yale School of Medicine 2001 and the Edward H. Storer Award for excellence in surgical teaching in 2007.
World Food Day Highlights Global Food Security Issues
In light of global financial instability, this year’s World Food Day theme — achieving food security in times of crisis — was particularly relevant. U.N. Goodwill Ambassadors, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representatives, and international leaders addressed the problem at the World Food Day ceremony at the FAO headquarters in Rome. A recent FAO report, “The State of Food Insecurity in the World,” found the number of food-insecure people has increased during the past decade and the financial crisis has exacerbated the problem.
World Food Day was October 16, the anniversary of the founding of the FAO in 1945. The organization marks the day every year with ceremonies that serve as an opportunity to draw attention to global food issues.
New York University’s Marion Nestle gave the 6th annual George McGovern lecture on the “Future of Food” sponsored by the U.S. Embassy. George McGovern, a distinguished U.S. Senator, was instrumental in the Food for Peace Program and other international efforts to address hunger. In her lecture, Dr. Nestle discussed hunger, obesity, food safety, and stressed that “social solutions are necessary to address social problems.” Empowerment of women, education, and sustainable agriculture were among Nestle’s proposed solutions.
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf called on world leaders to reach a “broad consensus on the total and rapid elimination of hunger.” World leaders will gather in Rome for the World Summit on Food Security between November 16 and 18.
The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts
Elaine D. Kolish, JD
Vice President and Director, Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc.
Linda J. Nagel, MSSA
President and CEO, Advertising Standards Canada
The Changing Face of Food Advertising to Children in North America
Elissa Epel, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry; Founding Co-Director, Center for Obesity Assessment and Treatment; University of California at San Francisco
Lisa A. Sutherland, PhD
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics; Senior Nutrition Scientist, Hood Center for Families and Children; Dartmouth Medical School
Our collection of podcasts is available for download on iTunes U, under the Yale University Health & Medicine – Nutrition & Obesity section, or you may subscribe to an RSS Feed that will automatically update whenever new content is released. Podcasts can be listened to on a computer or downloaded to a music player.