Spending Big Dollars to Market Cocoa Puffs to Kids


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  121 comments   :  19,128 Views

Growing up, the two cereal choices in our house were Cheerios and Rice Krispies. The only time I got to try the cereals I saw advertised on Saturday morning cartoons was when I spent the night at a friend's house. I always dreamed about what Cookie Crisp and Cocoa Puffs might taste like, and to this day, I've still never tried them (although I don't think I'm missing much anymore).

My parents had a rule in our house: No sugar cereals. I guess my sister and I were already full of energy as the day began, and they didn't want the extra sugar to get us even more wired. That was a wise decision. You'd think that these days, the cereal commercials directed toward children would have a healthier spin. But a new study shows that's not the case.

The study, conducted by Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, found that cereals marketed to kids have 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber and 60% more sodium than those targeting adults.

The average preschooler sees 642 TV ads for cereal each year, and cereal companies spend over $150 million a year marketing their products to children. There are healthy cereals out there, but the marketing dollars are spent on the unhealthy products instead. Why? Maybe it's easier to make an exciting commercial about eating a bowl of cookies for breakfast than to make one about a bowl of toasted o's.

In a related study, Yale researchers looked at the breakfasts of children (ages 5-12) at a summer camp. Half of the kids were given a sweetened cereal, and the other half was given a low-sugar option. The children who ate the low-sugar option averaged one serving or one cup of cereal. The children who ate the sweetened option averaged two servings or two cups of cereal. They rated the taste of both options equally high. So children in this study were just as satisfied with the "healthier" cereal- and ate half as much.

A healthy breakfast is so important, especially for kids. They are growing, establishing healthy habits that will hopefully carry through into adulthood, and need to be able focus during the school day. So why do cereal companies continue to promote products that don't help these efforts?

What do you think?

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  • 121
    I had rice krispies and cherrios as a child. My treat was cut fruit on these cereals. There was no argument, because you did not argue with my mom. Later when sweetened cereals were available, I did have them once in awhile, but I also played outside and did the things kids did back in the day. I don't it is so much the sweets, as it is no outdoor exercise. Gym is school has fallen by the wayside. - 9/25/2013   11:37:33 AM
  • 120
    I remember growing up with shreded wheat, cheerios, oatmeal, and grapenuts. When I had breakfast at other homes I tried Kix. It was not till college that I discovered that frootloops and applejacks were tasty as a dessert option. - 6/15/2012   6:26:10 PM
  • 119
    I read somewhere once that a good rule of thumb if you wanted "healthier" cereal for your kids with less sugar, was to not buy a cereal that had sugar in the first two ingredients. i basically go by that rule, but do occasionally buy a cereal that doesn't follow the rule as a "treat". Growing up I ate cocoa puffs, count chocula and cocoa krispies, but try to stay away from those now. I wonder though if the cocoa puffs I ate as a kid had less sugar than the cocoa puffs they sell now adays.
    At any rate, us parents need to decide the balance for our kids and maybe limit their tv viewing too for their health. - 2/14/2011   11:59:36 AM
    Hm... I ate Fruit Loops and Coco Puffs for breakfast when I was a kid and I'm a compassionate person who is slim, athletic, has a happy marriage and a good job. I guess those evil marketing companies really did a number on me, didn't they? - 10/8/2010   8:55:47 AM
  • 117
    It's not just the cereal companies, but also the grocery chains too that are targeting children. If you notice walking down the aisles at the grocery stores, the food they promote for kids is always at their eye height! - 2/13/2010   2:51:30 PM
  • 116
    These businesses are in business to make money. If you are unhappy with the product why are you buying it?
    You complain that "they" are more concerned with money than the health of children, yet as a parent you are buying it. You are the problem, not the ceral companies. If you stopped buying the product, there would be no reason for them to make it. You are in control. Vote with your dollars and buy a better product.
    - 12/8/2009   8:22:17 AM
    Advertisers will try every tactic they can to entice consumers, but even moreso when the targeted demographic is children. I think the tactics are actually more sleazy and underhanded when they are targeting children, that way they can hook them on the product while they are young and have a customer for life. Look at the tobacco days of old!

    But ultimately, it's up to the PARENTS. They have total discretion when it comes to what goes into their children's bodies, as well as their own. So we can't fully blame the media in this case. - 11/27/2009   6:38:32 PM
  • 114
    It's parental responsibility to choose which foods should be given to their kids, not advertisers. - 11/13/2009   10:01:42 PM
    It comes down to the parental decision not to feed kids this kind of garbage and the added benefit is your not supporting the cereal company that makes this kind of breakfast food. I was never allowed the sugar sweet cereal when I was growing up--I was only allowed cornflakes and rice krispes. I am sure glad there is more than 2 healthy choices now! - 11/12/2009   5:56:05 PM
  • MROGERS0325
    It's just appalling...they are more concerned about money than they are about the rising health issues with the next generation. It does however, fall back on the parents. I have a 2-year old and she is allowed to watch one thing on television...her "Your Baby Can Read" DVD. Television should NOT be allowed in allotments of hours per week for kids in my opinion. The study says that the average pre-schooler (3-4 years old I'm assuming) watches 642 ads for cereal per year; that's about 5.5 hours of just cereal commercials. What does that add up to for actual television time per week? Probably HOURS per DAY. Advice to parents who want their kids to be healthy...you can't shield them from everything, but if you limit their time to TV/Computer, increase their playtime activities (outside and inside), and practice good eating habits yourself, your child will grow up with good habits. - 11/12/2009   6:45:32 AM
  • 111
    I am very strict about sugar cereal in our home! I never buy it! When we were struggling finacially a few months ago, I bought the super size bags of sugar cereal to try and get through the month and I actually ended up spending more money because they ate two to three times as much cereal and I couldn't keep milk in my house because they were eating it as snack and meals and any time they could. I was actually very shocked. (I have teens) I have always been very conservative about sweets and pop and junk because of my weight problem so I wanted to teach my kids how to eat right from the very beginning. Sugar cereal is like a drug for kids and I will never ever buy it again!! - 11/10/2009   7:35:05 AM
  • 110
    i was one of the mean moms that never would buy the sugary cereals - 11/10/2009   12:15:44 AM
  • 109
    Well, here's my deep dark secret. My name is CrystalWolf, I'm 34, and I love cocoa puffs... LOL! BUT that being said, it is actually the only "naughty" cereal in our house - and I eat it instead of cookies or ice cream when I have a chocolate craving...LOL!

    I'm actually lucky, my daughter (now 13) has always liked the "good" cereals, and has always been a vegetable eater. From time to time she wants a naughty cereal, which is fine because I know she only eats it every once in a while, it will last a few months... LOL - 11/9/2009   10:58:28 PM
  • 108
    Jen, you answered your last question for yourself. The kids eat twice as much of the sugar cereals, so the companies earn twice as much money. That's why they do it! - 11/9/2009   4:02:53 PM
  • 107
    My parents cereal of choice was Cheerios. We rarely ever had any of the sugary cereals in the house. I tend to think it was because I had a hard enough time sitting still without adding a lot of sugar to my system.

    I think it is sad the companies go after selling to kids as much as they do. But it is the responsibility of the parents to teach their children about good nutrition. - 11/9/2009   3:34:41 PM
  • 106
    When I was growing up, I ate all sorts of sugar cereals. After a time, though, I lost a taste for all that sugar, and even though I would eat it if it was the only thing in the cupboard, I would not select it in a store, ever. I even prefer oatmeal and other hot cereals without any sweeteners at all! Yum! - 11/9/2009   3:02:58 PM
  • 105
    My parents never monitored the cereals that we ate and when I look at those cereals today I am disgusted. I choose high quality and nutritious cereals for my family and they never complain about the flavor. - 11/9/2009   1:59:54 PM
  • 104
    Cereal companies are only out to make money; that is why they won't join the health bandwagon, because too many people still eat these sugary cereals!

    When I was a kid, we occasionally had a treat of Cocoa Puffs, Honeycomb, Sugar Pops, Cap'n Crunch, Trix, or Sugar Smacks. But our staple cereals were Cheerios, Rice Chex, or Rice Krispies. As we got older, my mom refused to buy the "kiddie" cereals, and for a treat she would buy Honey Nut Cheerios or Frosted Mini-Wheats.

    Now, as a mom and step-mom, I keep Multi-Grain Cheerios, organic Raisin Bran (for the lower sugar content), and Kashi cereals in my cupboard. I have sometimes bought Honey Nut Cheerios or Cinnamon Life, but they are not staples. I have steel-cut oatmeal and wheat bran for hot cereals (my kids all know how to make these, now that they are all teens), and I keep lots of fresh fruit to top any cereals - raspberries, bananas, strawberries, etc. One step-daughter even adds extra raisins to her Raisin Bran!

    It's taken me YEARS to wean my step-kids off of their sugar diet. I couldn't put them cold-turkey on steel-cut oats; I had to step them down from Dinosaur Oatmeal (where the dino eggs "cook" into mini sugared dinosaurs) to instant oatmeals to regular oatmeal to steel-cut oatmeal. I had to step them down from frosted pop tarts to plain pop tarts to no pop tarts. I stepped them down from Nutri-Grain bars (which are full of sugar) to Nature Valley Granola bars to Kashi fruit bars and Larabars. I won't say I didn't get a lot of resistance, but I know they'll thank me when they're older and don't have weight problems!

    I agree with the Sparkers who say that being a parent means being able to say No to your kids. I am not here to be friends with my kids; I am here to be a responsible parent who can sometimes be flexible, but know when I need to say No for the best interests of my CHILDREN, who are still learning right from wrong, even in their teens and early 20s! - 11/9/2009   11:29:35 AM
  • 103
    I think its ridiculous that companies make cereal and cram so much sugar into it! My kids buy into the advetising hype and want all the cartoon cereals they see. I buy one every 6 months or so as a treat and even then, when I give it to them I give them a bowl of plain cheerios with a sprinkle of the sugar cereal. That's what they are used to and I don't get arguments out of them since they now see those as rewards for being good not as something that is a staple of their diet - 11/9/2009   8:54:07 AM
  • 102
    I really think it's important to show kids balance. I could have cereal every morning if it were for me but my mother would make oatmeal frequently and on those mornings I could only have cereal after I had eaten my oatmeal. She'd put fruits I like in my oatmeal, and that has helped me to think about breaking up monotonous meals. There's no problem with giving a child a little bit of sugary cereal if the parent is able to show the child control. Maybe one day it can be mixed with a healthier cereal, another day it can be parred with a boiled egg to give the child some balance in their diet. - 11/9/2009   8:47:51 AM
    Can they really conclude in this study that children who ate the less (the healthy cereal) were really satisfied? Maybe the cereal didn't taste as good so they ate less? Or maybe the cereal filled them up better than the sugary cereal. Who knows. - 11/9/2009   8:07:16 AM
  • 100
    We were not allowed much sugared cereal as kids, either - partly because there were 2 of us and only 1 prize in the box! I don't buy them for our kids, and they happily eat the healthier ones we do buy, although cereal is perhaps only a 1x/wk breakfast at our house. They prefer toast (whole grain), English muffins, etc. I am appalled at the figures you give - thanks for posting! - 11/9/2009   5:50:53 AM
  • 1960ANN
    Cheerios, Wheaties and Total are the cereals I keep for the family, if I were to bring a high sugar cereal into the house they would look at me like I was punishing them. I was brought up on low or no sugar cereal and I keep it that way in the house. The amount of junk in almost all breakfast food targeted for children now a days should be outlawed. - 11/8/2009   10:12:36 PM
  • 98
    We keep healthy cereals for my kids such as Cheerios, Life, and Oatmeal Squares. We do, however, buy the occasional box of sugar cereal and my kids refer to it as "dessert" cereal. They don't get it everyday. It's a treat cereal that they get a 1/2 serving of on special days AFTER they have eaten their healthy cereal. - 11/8/2009   9:54:14 PM
    When I was growing up, there were two cereals in our house--grits and oatmeal--and I didn't have a choice about which was served on any given day. (I would have eaten grits every day.) My parents weren't "health-conscious;" they were poor. That, however, was not their primary motivator. They took seriously the responsibility that accompanies the gift of a child, parental guidance and necessary discipline. Children are not born with the innate skill to make these decisions wisely. We must teach them. We owe our children the skills to live a good life, not to have a good time. (The two are not mutually exclusive.) Instead of castigating cereal companies for this problem, let's place the blame where it belongs--with the parents. If this didn't work, the companies, whose bottom line is profit, wouldn't waste their time. I don't want cereal companies or the government raising my children. Since neither has shown the capacity for doing so adequately, I'll do the job myself. (We didn't watch television during daylight hours either.)

    Incidently, kids attending summer camp sounds like a skewed test group to me. - 11/8/2009   9:05:25 PM
    We only had basic cereals in the house like Cheerios and cornflakes, oatmeal and Cream of Wheat, but I put tons of granulated sugar on it. Commercials for Sugar Frosted Flakes (or some such awful thing) said its cereal had "less sugar than kids would put on themselves."

    That was true, then, now it has all gotten out of hand.

    It is not just "sugar," it is that so many cereals have HFCS and no matter how many studies I keep reading (funded by the Corn Refiners' Association), I will never be convinced that is not much worse than regular table syrup and I just can't imagine why any parent would let their kid eat a cereal where it is an ingredient.

    I agree with the poster who said let's not blame corporations (or, adding, the government or society) because kids are obese, it is the parents' responsibility to look at the labels and buy what is healthy for kids. - 11/8/2009   8:33:06 PM
  • 95
    I totally agree with most commenters, but esp. Semuspark. My folks didn't buy the sugary cereals as a rule & neither did we for our kids. And, yes, cookies floating in milk is not my idea of a hearty, healthy start to my day. Also agree that it is up to us to draw the line. As long as it turns a profit, companies will continue putting out garbage. If it didn't sell, they wouldn't be doing it. - 11/8/2009   8:32:20 PM
    Jencorrine, sugar always helped me to focus and I was tested for add/adhd and the test was negative. :D Also, the teacher that I was working with, both times when she used sugar in her lesson plans, most of the kids paid attention. You cannot tell me that most of these kids had ADD/ADHD. She told me about the kids with exceptionalities, or who had add/adhd, and there were not very many in her class who did. I doubt that these kids were simply a group of mostly ADD/ADHD kids who were just "not diagnosed."

    Also, as far as "hyping kids up" a study was done. http://althouse.blogspot.com/2009/0
    - 11/8/2009   7:25:51 PM
    If all you provide is healthy food that is what they will eat. - 11/8/2009   7:19:19 PM
  • 92
    The cereal companies are out to make a profit. Only the consumers-us- can control the market by not buying unhealthy products. If no one bought Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms, etc. they would disappear from the shelves in no time. - 11/8/2009   7:17:54 PM
    My breakfast is either oatmeal, slim-fast or yogurt; each with dried cranberries or blueberries, wheat germ and a couple of walnuts. - 11/8/2009   6:43:24 PM
  • 90
    because it works - WE buy it. we're the dummies. - 11/8/2009   5:48:50 PM
  • 89
    Hello, I like to have a job. I believe in businesses making money- der. Not making money = firing people, and bad economies, and like that. So cereal companies are in competition with each other to get Mom & Dad's money. They will do what it takes to be profitable, ie, keep hiring people, keep paying salaries, keep buying and selling products.
    It is NOT in a companies best interest to play crusader if they are doing mass marketing.
    SO- I believe it would behoove America to have standards about what is allowable. If companies could not market food with over- oh, say X amount of sugar as breakfast foods for kids, they would have a more level playing field competition wise to market healthier food to kids for breakfast.
    Large amounts of sugar = desert. Have a standard that states as such, and average Joe people would have a clear decision making process.
    Kids watch TV- if they sell 'all' the normal kids having it for breakfast, it's hard for a 3-9 year old to understand why it's NOT a breakfast food. If we had standards, there would be no confusion.
    And, yes, I believe a great deal of the US mass marketing is to adults who fall under the rubric of a 3-9 year old mentality. 'Everybody does it' is true for many 20, 30, 40 & 80 year olds as well.
    Not that this is a terrible thing- I don't have to 'think' about whether to stop at stop signs, or obey traffic laws. Culture and what is normative is a powerful force for good. There are LOTS of things that I don't 'decide' about- like whether to wear clothes in public, or stay on the road while driving in a city, or pick up after myself. Laws can be instrumental in creating a culture of norms.
    Yeah. Like that. - 11/8/2009   5:43:14 PM
  • KIMS76
    I remember being a kid and being hit with all the cereal commmercials. I can still sing some of the songs lol! We had Count Chocula, Frankenberry, Captain Crunch, Cookie Crisp......they list goes on! I also remember my siblings and I putting up a fit when my mom would come home with Corn and Rice Chex. We were like, "What the hell kind of cereal is that?" I wish she would have stuck to her guns and not ran out and bought the terrible cereals. It indeed did start a history of poor eating habits because we got use to crying for what we wanted and she would give in but, she would also make us go outside and play for hours. Over the years I ate more sugar and became less active. That is why I am with Sparkpeople. To take control of my life that I gave happily over to advertising gimics. When I have children they won't even know what Captain Crunch is lol! - 11/8/2009   5:27:19 PM
  • 87
    I'm no expert, and I certainly don't pretend to be, but I honestly think that sugary cereals are the beginning of lifelong poor food choices for kids. As a step-mom, my step-son thought I was a shrew because I wouldn't buy the junk he was accustomed to having. I gave in occasionally and bought the junk and was hailed as a hero when I did. How sad is that? The house depends on its foundation for sturdiness; if the foundation is sugary cereals then the house will crumble long before its time. - 11/8/2009   4:18:51 PM
  • 86
    We don't have any of those sugary sweet cereals in our home and don't intend to!!!!!!!!

    - 11/8/2009   2:44:17 PM
  • 85
    It's called I'm the Mommy and No. People should use their parenting skills more often. Like another poster wrote, kids don't pay the bills so I select the groceries. - 11/8/2009   2:33:07 PM
  • 84
    I swore my children would never eat sugary cereals and my hubby introduced them to Captain Crunch when they were little....I was not a happy camper. Today they are both in their late teens. Both children are healthy, slender,althletic, have great teeth and are honor students who eat cereal with sugar occasionally. I have learned to "pick" my battles carefully. - 11/8/2009   11:07:01 AM
  • 83
    It's poison. - 11/8/2009   11:00:52 AM
  • 82
    Kids don't have jobs and money to buy sugar cereals. If parents don't buy them, they can't eat them. We ate regular cheerios, corn flakes and raisin bran at my house when I was a kid because my dad was diabetic and my mom said sugar cereals were too expensive anyway. To this day, I still love those cereals and the idea of cocoa puffs and cookie crisps frankly grosses me out (honestly, little chocolate chip cookies swimming in milk for breakfast?). - 11/8/2009   10:44:58 AM
  • 81
    Marketers would rather start early and get our kids addicted to the things we are all trying to break, than help them get an early start on health. I do not give them my dollars. - 11/8/2009   10:10:11 AM
  • 80
    I eat oatmeal when the weather is hot and when I do eat ceral its Chex - 11/8/2009   9:46:10 AM
  • 79
    I didn't let my kids eat "junk", as my mother called it. We had Wheat Chex, Grapenuts, and other filling low sugar cereals for our kids. Once in first grade, my oldest daughter had a friend spend the night. After studying the cereal options in our pantry, the little girl opted to go home for "real" cereal rather than eat our healthy cereals. My daughter, now a healthy exercising nut of 28, tell me that she loves the fact that we ate such a heatlhy diet. She sees far too many folks that are overweight.

    It's nice to know I could pass on my mother's wisdom and good habits! Now I'm trying to get my grandchildren to eat healthy. Their parents (my daughters and sons-in-law) have some conflicts over food. The guys weren't raised with healthy eating habits and want to pass on their love of junk food, but my daughters are insisting on healthy choices. I'm hoping they'll continue to pay it forward down to this next generation. Yeah! - 11/8/2009   8:50:24 AM
  • 78
    I have two sons and I never gave them any cereals with high sugar content for their breakfast. I would, as a treat, and that would only be maybe 3X year buy a box of Sugar Puffs and they knew they could only have this as a special snack. There really wasn't many of these cereals around at that time, anyway but they were starting to become numerous. My son talked me into buying some chocolate flavoured cereal as their treat one time, and I was never so disgusted as when I looked into their bowls and saw this ugly coloured milk! I never again got it. They are now adults and to my knowledge have never bought any of these cereals for themselves. - 11/8/2009   8:22:21 AM
  • 77
    This was one of my favorite cereals as a kid. My parents never read the label and as a kid, I just new I like chocolate. Commercials make kids wants these things and it's sad, because as a parent, it's hard to say no. - 11/7/2009   11:55:18 PM
  • 76
    I ate malt-o-meal as a kid... occasionally cereal... but now all we eat is rice.... and the only cereal we eat here is fiber one. - 11/7/2009   10:32:10 PM
    My all time favorite cereal as a kid and to this day is Cheerios. Plain regular Cheerios, without any added sugar or anything. I guess all of those marketing strategies missed me as a kid! - 11/7/2009   8:50:05 PM
  • 74
    I don't feed them to my kid... I didn't eat them as a kid. I remember one time, we were at Grandma's and she took us to the store. She asked us what kind of cereal we usually ate at home. We told a HUGE lie and she bought us Trix. First, last, and only time we ever got the stuff. We got in so much trouble! I wound up buying multigrain cheerios for myself (and my tot) and it is lightly sweetened (something I didn't realize first time I bought it!) but he eats it without issue and that is a big deal here at this house. While I would never go as far as to by the "fruity cheerios" or any of your other typical sugar kids cereal... I don't mind the multigrain cheerios or honey nut cheerios. Maybe I am really boring... but when I tried Lucky Charms for the first time (in college), I was rather disappointed. Kind of put me off trying any others.

    I don't think though, that if you feed/allow your kids to eat the "sugary" cereals that you are a bad parent. We all make our choices. If your kid eats sugar cereal for breakfast in reasonable portions, a healthy lunch, after school snack and dinner... you haven't harmed them. It is all about moderation. Moderation in all things... even for your kids. I don't like the idea of forbidding anything (food) to mine. I think it just will create arguments now and later on perhaps food issues as an adult. He had a piece of halloween candy today. He won't tomorrow. Moderation. (Of course, I do have the only boy on earth who won't eat french fries and demands that we get him apples from McD's instead!). - 11/7/2009   8:35:09 PM
    I know parents are faced with so many detrimental outside influences on their children, but only they can protect their children. Start early; stay consistent; be firm; love lots . Less television means less exposure to commercials and will probably also result in more physical activity. - 11/7/2009   8:07:16 PM
  • 72
    I too as a child remember eating those sugar laden cereals that had a toy surprise in the box and yes parents took on more responsibility in what their children ate and how much. We may have eaten these sugary cereals but we had one advantage over the children of today. We got exercise we went outside and in good weather went riding on our bikes or skating with our roller skates or playing jump rope soft ball basket ball and or just running around being a kid. In the winter weather we went ice skateing rode sleds build snowmen and had snowball fights. Todays parents often don't watch the portions of these cereals that their children are eating and most of today's children get their exercise from sitting in front of a television playing video games or on the computer playing games you hardly see children playing outside anymore so no wonder there is a obesity epidemic if you are going to eat and not exercise more than your thumbs then what can you expect but obese children. - 11/7/2009   7:34:37 PM

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