Serving "Children's" Cereals Increases Total Sugar Consumption; Research Shows Children Will Eat More Nutritious Offerings

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The study, however, also reveals that children will eat breakfast cereals containing low amounts of sugar when that is the only option offered. The paper is published in Pediatrics.

In the study, children between the ages of 5 and 12 were recruited from three racially diverse summer camps in New England. The children were randomly assigned to receive a breakfast that included either the choice of one of three high-sugar cereals or one of three low-sugar cereals. Along with cereal, each child was offered low-fat milk, orange juice, fresh strawberries and bananas, as well as packets of sugar. They were allowed to eat and drink as much as they wanted. Following breakfast, researchers recorded how much the children ate.

Children reported “liking” or “loving” the cereal they chose whether it was a high-sugar or low-sugar variety. The children who were offered the high-sugar cereals consumed twice the amount of refined sugar, even though the other children added sugar to their low-sugar cereals. In both cases, children consumed similar amounts of milk and total calories; however, children who were served low-sugar cereals consumed a greater proportion of those calories from fresh fruit, whereas the added sugar found in high-sugar cereals comprised the majority of calories in the high-sugar cereal meal.

There is a consensus among health professionals that children should eat breakfast every morning. But this study shows that serving high-sugar cereals may increase children’s total sugar consumption and reduce the overall nutritional quality of breakfast. The dilemma, say the authors, is that because of the prevalent marketing of high-sugar cereals to children, many parents feel they are faced with a choice between purchasing high-sugar cereals or having their children eat no breakfast at all.

The Yale study shows that children will consume and enjoy the more nutritional option when it is offered. According to lead author, Jennifer L. Harris, Ph.D., M.B.A., “These findings show that children will eat low-sugar varieties of cereals. And parents can make these options even more nutritious by adding fresh fruit to the bowl.” She also notes that, “Even if parents add a small amount of table sugar, this strategy would reduce the amount of sugar in children’s diets while also promoting a balanced first meal of the day.”

The study was funded by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Foundation.

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