Get a FREE Pass to the IDEA World Fitness & Nutrition Expo   Claim My FREE Expo Pass »

children’s cereal labels mislead parents

by Sandy Todd Webster on Oct 17, 2011

Food for Thought

Not everyone has impeccable food knowledge, so when a sugary cereal touts itself as being whole grain, fortified with essential vitamins or otherwise good for your child’s health, you may believe it, toss the box in the cart and move on with your shopping trip with some assurance that the product must be okay.

Not so fast. A new study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University shows that parents often misinterpret nutrition-related health claims on children’s cereals, inferring that products with health claims are more nutritious overall despite actual nutrient quality. Published online June 8, 2011, in the journal Public Health Nutrition, the research suggests that additional government regulation of front-of-package labeling is needed to educate consumers.

More than 300 parents with children aged 2–11 viewed images of actual cereal box fronts for kids’ cereals in an online survey. While the cereals were of below-average nutritional quality, the boxes featured various nutrition-related health claims, including “whole grain,” “fiber,” “calcium and vitamin D,” “organic” and “supports your child’s immunity.” Participants were provided with possible meanings for these claims and then indicated how the claims would affect their willingness to buy the products.

Parents inferred that cereals bearing health claims were more nutritious overall and might provide specific health-related benefits for their children. These assumptions predicted a greater willingness to buy the cereals. For example:

  • Approximately one-quarter of parents believed that the “whole grain” claim on Lucky Charms® and “calcium and vitamin D” claim on Cinnamon Toast Crunch® meant these cereals were healthier than other children’s cereals.
  • About half of parents stated that the claims (with the exception of the “organic” claim) would make them more likely to buy the cereals. Three-quarters of parents believed that the “immunity” claim on Cocoa Krispies® meant that eating this cereal would keep their child from getting sick. After widespread criticism from the public health community, Kellogg’s discontinued their “immunity” claim. “

Promoting specific positive nutrients in products with other, less beneficial, ingredients (e.g., high-sugar cereals) appears to be a highly effective and low-risk marketing strategy for food companies,” stated Jennifer Harris—lead author of the study and Rudd Center director of marketing initiatives—in a press release. “These claims provide an opportunity to enhance product image and increase sales with limited potential for consumer skepticism or other negative reactions.” The authors asserted that increased regulation from the Food and Drug Administration is needed to reduce confusion surrounding such nutrition claims.

Want more from Sandy Todd Webster?

Fitness Journal, Volume 8, Issue 11

Find the Perfect Job

More jobs, more applicants and more visits than any other fitness industry job board.

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.