December 13th, 2010
12:01 AM ET
Move over tigers and leprechauns, breakfast cereal doesn't necessarily have to be sweet for kids to eat it. A study conducted by Yale University researchers found that many children, when given low sugar cereals, enjoyed them and ate a better breakfast when they didn't eat the sugary alternatives.
For many youngsters, cereal is a breakfast staple. Yet a lot of cereals marketed for children are loaded with sugar to make them more appealing to the younger set. But investigators at Yale wondered, is all this excess sugar in kids' cereals really necessary when it comes to getting them to eat it? And how does it affect children's eating habits?
"It's obvious that breakfast is an important meal of the day for children, because it helps them do better in school. And cereal is part of that," said Dr. Marlene Schwartz, study author and deputy director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. "But there has always been feedback from cereal marketers saying that kids won't eat low sugar cereal. And we said, wait a minute, what do you mean they won't eat it?"
For the study, which was published in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics, scientists measured what 91 children at summer day camps ate for breakfast. The campers were divided into separate groups, and offered either three kinds of high-sugar cereals (Froot Loops, Cocoa Pebbles or Frosted Flakes) or three brands of low-sugar cereals (Cheerios, Rice Krispies or Corn Flakes) , along with milk, orange juice, cut-up fruit and sugar packets. The children served themselves and then filled out questionnaires.
Investigators found although both groups of children said they liked the taste of their cereals, those who ate the high sugar products, ate larger portions of cereal, consuming almost twice as much refined sugar as the youngsters who were in the low-sugar group – even when the low-sugar kids added their own table sugar.
Children who ate low-sugar cereals consumed average portions of cereal and were more likely to add small amounts of table sugar and/or fruit in their bowls. Although both groups consumed around the same amount of calories, the kids who ate low-sugar cereals were getting their sugar calories in natural forms, such as in natural sugar, orange juice and fresh fruit.
"As health professionals, we are not opposed to putting small amounts of sugar or fruits on cereals," noted Schwartz. "Because it's far better to get your calories from natural sugar sources than it is from the sugar that's added to some of these cereals."
In a statement, Kellogg, maker of four of the six cereals in the test, said it continues to make its foods more nutritious. "As part of this ongoing process, we've recently decreased the sugar in our top-selling kids' cereals by approximately 20 percent, or 2-3 grams per serving," the company said."Research shows that all cereal eaters have healthier body weights than those who don't eat cereal."
Study authors concluded that parents should offer their kids healthy cereal choices and make them more appealing to their children by adding a small amounts of table sugar or fresh fruit to the meal.
" We need to watch what our children are eating," said Schwartz. "It's up to parents to give their kids healthy choices, that we've found they will eat, as opposed to loading them up with excess sugar in cereals that could eventually lead to childhood obesity."
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