Childhood obesity is becoming such an epidemic that many schools are taking steps to increase the nutrition and exercise awareness of both their students and their students’ parents. Take, for example, this article covering changes recently instituted by five Philadelphia schools:
Five Philadelphia elementary schools replaced sodas with fruit juice. They scaled back snacks and banished candy. They handed out raffle tickets for wise food choices. They spent hours teaching kids, their parents and teachers about good nutrition.
As a result, “the number of kids who got fat during the two-year experiment was half the number of kids who got fat in schools that didn’t make those efforts.” Which is great, but of course not nearly enough. What we need is more education and awareness about what we feed our children. For instance, the cereal we feed them.
A recent article on Medical News Today about children’s cereal caught my eye. The article cites a recent study conducted by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, which concluded that children’s cereals are higher in calories, sugar and salt than adult cereals, despite marketing claims to the contrary. The article goes on to summarize the study:
[Marlene] Schwartz and her colleagues examined 161 breakfast cereals from four leading manufacturers and compared nutritional values of children’s and nonchildren’s cereals to national guidelines. They found that when comparing nutrients per gram, children’s cereals were higher in calories, sodium, carbohydrate, and sugar, but significantly lower in fiber and protein. They also found that the majority of children’s cereals, 66 percent, failed to meet national recommended nutritional standards for foods sold in schools.
I couldn’t find a copy of the study itself, so I thought I’d conduct a spot-check myself. When selecting children’s cereal and adult cereal, I concentrated on marketing and shelf placement in the grocery store, as one Yale Rudd Center study points out that
Children are exposed to an estimated 10 000 advertisements for food per year, 95% of which are for fast foods, candy, sugared cereal and soft drinks (13). By pre-school, the child begins to have preferences for certain products and, according to McNeal, is a ‘consumer by influence’ (14). Advertisers place cereal boxes at child eye level because they know that toddlers can recognize brands of cereal and request them from their seat in the grocery cart.
Based on ads and shelf placement, I selected three cereals marketed as “healthy” children’s cereals and two “healthy” adult cereals, because let’s face it – comparing Trix to Allbran is just a tad unfair, and you shouldn’t be feeding your child that un-food anyway. Let’s see how they stack up.
Serving Size: 1 cup (28 grams)
Calories, without milk: 100
Whole grain oats, modified corn starch, sugar, oat bran, salt, calcium carbonate, oat fiber, potassium phosphate, corn starch, wheat starch, vitamin E
Serving Size: 1 1/4 cup (30 grams)
Calories, without milk: 110
corn (whole grain corn, meal), whole grain oats, ugar, corn bran, modified corn starch, corn syrup, salt, calcium carbonate, trisodium phosphate, vitamin E, misc vitamins
Serving Size: 3/4 cup (27 grams)
Calories, without milk: 100
whole grain wheat, sugar, salt, corn syrup, trisodium phosphate, BHT, misc vitamins
Serving Size: 1/2 cup (31 grams)
Calories, without milk: 80
wheat bran, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, malt flavoring, calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, salt, sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid (vitamin c), misc vitamins
Serving Size: 1 cup (31 grams)
Calories, without milk: 120
rice, wheat gluten, sugar, defatted wheat germ, salt, high fructose corn syrup, dried whey, malt flavoring, calcium caseinate, misc vitamins
I think visually, so I’ve created a table with what I think are the most important comparisons to draw between the five cereals. *I’ve changed the serving size to make the numbers directly comparable.
|Cereal||Serving Size*||Calories per Serving||Sodium per Serving||Sugars per Serving||HFCS?|
|Cheerios||31 grams||111||210 mg||1 gram||NO|
|Kix||31 grams||114||217 mg||3 grams||NO(?)|
|Wheaties||31 grams||115||218 mg||5 grams||NO(?)|
|All-Bran||31 grams||80||80 mg||6 grams||YES|
|Special K||31 grams||120||220 mg||4 grams||YES|
The takeaway I get? Eat fruit, not cereal. If you need to serve cereal, Cheerios looks like the least evil. The other takeaway? I need to find a new recipe for my bran muffins.