Should the FDA regulate children’s cereal?

Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has published its report “Evaluating the nutrition quality and marketing of children’s cereals.

The 100 page report begins:

Extensive marketing to children for foods of poor nutritional quality has been identified as a contributor to the obesity crisis. The food industry has responded, through the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) sponsored by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, with pledges by most of the largest food marketers to reduce unhealthy marketing to children. The question raised by health advocates is whether self-regulatory
actions such as these do in fact reduce the harm associated with unhealthy food marketing to children. Cereal FACTS addresses that question.

Ready-to-eat (RTE) cereals are the largest category of packaged food marketed directly to children; in 2006, cereal companies spent $229 million to target children and adolescents. In this report, we present the nutrient quality of cereals, evaluate the products marketed to children as compared to those marketed to adults, quantify young people’s exposure to cereal marketing, and describe the marketing practices used to reach children and their parents.

Marion Nestle gives a quick summary of the report’s findings:

Even a quick look at its summary gives an unambiguous result: most of the marketing dollars are aimed at pushing sugary cereals at kids.  Companies use TV and the Internet to push the least nutritious cereals.

Nestle advises:

forget industry self-regulation.  It doesn’t work. FDA: it’s time to take on health claims.

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