Researchers used data from the Nielsen Company to study cereal purchases by U.S. households over the course of a year. They looked at purchases by households with and without children and analyzed the families’ race, ethnicity, and income. Each cereal was given a score for its nutritional quality, whether it was advertised on TV, and who the advertising targeted.
Although cereal purchases were lowest in African-American households, the African-American homes were more likely to buy cereals that were advertised to children, which were among the least nutritious cereals. The authors also found that on average, all households studied purchased cereals advertised directly to children 13 times more frequently than non-advertised products.
Based on the results, the authors suggest that improving the nutritional quality of cereals which are targeted to children could lead to healthier diets among young people.
According to author Jennifer Harris, the Rudd Center’s director of marketing initiatives, “These findings may help to explain why some cereal companies have opposed stronger nutrition standards for foods marketed to children. Advertising to children appears to be extraordinarily effective at increasing product sales as compared with advertising to adults. We were stunned to find that cereals marketed to children were purchased 13 times more often than non-advertised products.”
The full study, co-authored by Katia Castetbon, Jennifer Harris, and Marlene Schwartz, is available here until the end of January.