EWG New Report on Sugar in Children’s Cereals: One Serving Equal To Three Chips Ahoy Cookies
December 24, 2014
Kyriaki (Sandy) Venetis in Environmental Working Group, FDA, USDA, cereals, food, heart disease, high sugar cereals, kids' cereals by sugar content, low sugar cereals, nutrition, obesity

The Environmental Working Group’s newest report, Children’s Cereals: Sugar by the Pound, finds that very little has improved since 2011 – the last time the group did a survey of the cereal industry.

Honey Smacks 56% sugar content per box. Image from Kelloggstore.com.

As part of a larger study, the EWG again reviewed a smaller sample of 84 popular children’s cereals that had it originally evaluated in 2011 and found that while a handful of manufacturers lowered the sugar content of their cereals, “the vast majority are still too sweet to be healthy, averaging two teaspoons per serving.”

The new report did a comprehensive analysis of 1,556 cereals, including 181 marketed for children and found that “not one was free of added sugars.” In addition, the group found that, “On average, children’s cereals have more than 40 percent more sugar than adult cereals, and twice as much as oatmeal.”

Also among the concerning issues highlighted by the report were how these cereals were marketed to children, prominent nutritional claims, and the use of unrealistically small portion size measurements on nutritional labels.

The report found that for many cereals, a single serving size exceeded 60 percent of the daily amount of sugar suggested by health agencies and organizations, and “because the serving sizes on cereal labels are unrealistically small, many children eat multiple servings in a single siting.”

The EWG defined cereals marketed to children as those with cartoon characters on the boxes and found those were “the most heavily loaded with added sugar, making them a significant source of empty calories.”

The EWG illustrated this point by saying, “A child eating one serving per day of a children’s cereal containing the average amount of sugar would consume nearly 1,000 teaspoons of sugar in a year.”

The EWG’s analysis found that 78 percent of children’s cereals contain more than two teaspoons of sugar in a single serving – more than a quarter of the daily limit for an eight-year old.

EWG’s 2014 List of the 13 Most Sugary Children’s Cereals (sugar by box weight)

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The EWG also believes that the promotional labeling on most cereal boxes is “designed to distract consumers from focusing on the unhealthy sugar content by making claims that the products provide important nutrients, such as ‘Excellent Source of Vitamin D’ or ‘Good Source of Fiber.’”

In contrast to these claims, the EWG cites a study conducted by scientists from Louisiana State University and the USDA, which “found that children who ate cereals with more than six grams of sugar per serving (note: one teaspoon equals five grams), had lower fiber and higher average BMIs than those who ate cereals containing less than six grams per serving.”

So basically, the findings suggest that children shouldn’t eat cereals with more than a teaspoon of sugar per serving size.

The EWG would like to see a new standard set for cereals, where they would only be considered low-sugar if they contain only one teaspoon or less (four grams) of added sugar per serving.

So far, the FDA has not set any limits on the amount of added sugar allowed in products that make nutritional claims, such as cereals. Though, in an attempt to make consumers more aware of the amount of added sugar they consume, earlier this year, the agency proposed to add a new line to the nutritional label of products, called “Added Sugars.”

The FDA expresses concern by saying, “For the average American, 16 percent of their total daily calories come from added sugars,” including: granulated white sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, honey, lactose, malt syrup, molasses, and nectars.

Medical experts are increasingly sounding the alarm about the dangers of too much sugar in peoples’ diets.

The American Heart Association cited a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine last January, in which “researchers found that the odds of dying from heart disease rose in tandem with the percentage of sugar in one’s diet, regardless of a person’s age, sex, physical activity level, and body-mass index.”

The American Heart Association added that, “Specifically, those who got 17 to 21 percent of calories from added sugar had a 38 percent high risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed eight percent of their calories from added sugar.

“The risk was more than double for those who consumed 21 percent or more of their calories from added sugar.”

Excessive sugar consumption is a leading contributor to obesity, which is largely what fuels these health issues. The World Health Organization (WHO) tallied findings earlier this year that, “Worldwide obesity has nearly doubled since 1980,” and that, “Around 3.4 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.”

The WHO says that being overweight or obese are contributing factors to numerous health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancers (including endometrial, breast, and colon), and degenerative joint disease.

 The WHO also adds specifically that obese children are especially prone to increased breathing difficulties and risks of bone fractures.

To help parents able to more accurately measure and thereby control how much sugar their kids are consuming, especially in cereals, the EWG is campaigning to have serving sizes on labels changed to more accurately reflect how much a person actually eats during a meal.

The EWG explains that “because the serving sizes listed on many cereal boxes are unrealistically small, even sugar-conscious consumers are eating even more than they realize. The average American eats 30 percent more than the amount used to set the labeled serving sizes.”

The FDA acknowledges, “A lot has changed in the American diet since the Nutritional Facts label has introduced in 1993,” and that, “The goal is to make people more aware of what they are eating and give them the tools to make healthy dietary choices throughout the day.”

The agency made a preliminary proposal earlier this year to updating serving size requirements, saying, “These updates would reflect the reality of what people actually eat,” because, “by law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not what they ‘should’ be eating.” So far, nothing has moved past the proposal stage.

For its part, the American Heart Association has created the following guide to help consumers better understand sugar content labels promoted on cereals and other packaged food and beverage products.

Understanding Sugar Conent Labels - American Heart Association

The American Heart Association also reminds consumers to: “Keep in mind that if the product has no fruit or milk products in the ingredients, all of the sugars in the food are from added sugars. If the product contains fruit or milk products, the total sugar per serving listed on the label will include added and natural occurring sugars.”

To help consumers make healthier, less sugary cereal choices, the EWG recommends, if possible, preparing breakfast from scratch and eating fruits, as well as eating unsweetened hot cereals or other whole foods with no sugar added.

The EWG also knows that people don’t always have the time to prepare a healthy breakfast, and created a list of the 10 least sugary children’s cereals for 2014.

EWG’s 2014 Ten Least Sugary Children’s Cereals (sugar by box weight)

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