December 13th, 2010
12:01 AM ET

Kids don't always prefer sweet cereals

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."

soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. BluBlue

    ...Yeah, I think it definitely is more of a parenting responsibility to introduce kids to a variety of cereals and routinely add fresh fruit (have the kids cut it up themselves) and make it clear that certain cereals are definitely healthier than others. Most kids will develop better HABITS that way. Good habits are better in the long term than just making kids eat high-fiber logs. LOL

    December 13, 2010 at 02:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jay In Florida

    Just don't tell this to Kellog's. Their sugar business is so important, they even left Florida because they could not get better pricing from Dixie Crystals. Same is true for that "Special K" brand they sell. It is nothing but huge amounts of sugar, which in the end don't make you lose any weight at all. Don't get me started on their "health bars".

    December 13, 2010 at 03:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NewYorker in NJ

      I'm all with you, Jay. Their 'Special K' line is just absolutely awful stuff – nothing healthy about it!

      December 13, 2010 at 09:38 | Report abuse |
    • Cole

      Special K comes to a total of 120 calories and 4 grams of sugar. If you want to call 4 grams a HUGE AMOUNT, go right ahead. Just be sure to use "astronomical" and "infinite" to describe sugars in other products, which can easily go above 20 grams.

      Special K doesn't have health bars. They have cereal, meal and snack bars. And, yes, they are very different things, as are energy and protein bars. The sugars for their bars:
      Cereal: 6, 7g
      Meal: 12-15g
      Snack: 11g

      Those are relatively low numbers. Outside of granola bars (which, by the way, are health bars, and generally have 6-12g), you're usually looking at 15-20 for snack and meal bars. (Energy and protein bars usually have 20+)

      So... Do stop spreading false information.

      December 13, 2010 at 10:11 | Report abuse |
    • Pee McGee

      I bet that you are one of those people who think they are required to eat McDonalds once a day also. Get a life.

      December 13, 2010 at 11:05 | Report abuse |
    • Joy

      Special K berries is my favorite cereal and since it's not sweet enough, I add sugar.

      December 13, 2010 at 11:44 | Report abuse |
    • emtz

      yeah its kind of interesting how they deduct the carbs amount based on the fiber! if it has 20 grams of carbs, and 7 grams of fiber, then they only put 13 grams of carbs, convenient trick!

      December 13, 2010 at 12:58 | Report abuse |
    • NewYorker in NJ

      To Cole: I challenge you to read the ingredients. You may, however, need a chemistry dictionary...!

      December 14, 2010 at 12:57 | Report abuse |
  3. meh

    I use white paint instead of milk.

    December 13, 2010 at 03:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Karl

    My 3 boys (oldest currently 3yo) have always enjoyed stuff like multigrain cheerios or shredded wheats more so than 'candy-like' breakfast (they ask for that kind of stuff closer to dinner haha).

    December 13, 2010 at 03:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • whatnext

      That's 'cause they missed out on Calvin (Calvin & Hobbes) and his chocolate covered sugar bombs.

      December 13, 2010 at 11:27 | Report abuse |
  5. Justina

    Seriously, Americans eat way too sweet and too salty. Can't they follow Europeans more in taste?

    December 13, 2010 at 05:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Texas Pete

      Go to the store around here. High salt and high sugar is just about unavoidable.

      December 13, 2010 at 11:51 | Report abuse |
    • Caroline

      Yeah, because obesity rates aren't soaring in the UK and Germany as well. They're just as bad as we are!

      December 13, 2010 at 15:46 | Report abuse |
  6. Dalaimama

    I just don't buy the sugary alternatives and my kids don't have a choice but to eat a healthy breakfast. I'm a full time student with 2 school agers, and even on my low income I make sure my kids eat healthy. Those sugary cereals are much more expensive than multi-grain cheerios and oatmeal!

    December 13, 2010 at 07:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SOFIA

      I completely agree, if they don't know what they are missing then it doesn't make a difference. My son doesn't like onions, but did he notice he ate some in his omelet? of course not!!!! my husband was about to tell him to not eat it because he hates onions, but eating healthy is very important to me.

      December 13, 2010 at 10:04 | Report abuse |
  7. kate

    The bottom line is the parents have the say in what their children eat. If they keep buying cereals with a bunch of added sugars than cereal companies will keep producing cereal with a ton of sugar. If those cereals aren't selling than they will start putting their money into other cereals that ARE selling. The problem is that when 33% of Americans are obese they don't really care what they give to their kids.Need weight loss tips? http://www.diet-myths.com

    December 13, 2010 at 07:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Mama Ellen

    This is great news and I now it to be true. My 3 kids grew up eating low sugar cereals and we never even offered the table sugar. They never knew what they were missing and they always ate their breakfasts. But each year on their birthdays they got to have "sugar cereal" of their choosing as a special treat. Worked like a charm!

    December 13, 2010 at 08:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Karen

    Sugar is not the only problem; cereal grains are also carbohydrates. Grains contain a lot of antinutrients like phytates, alkylresorcinols, alpha-amylase inhibitors, protease inhibitors, lectins and gluten. Here, http://www.cutthecarb.com/your-daily-bread-pasta-and-pizza-are-killing-you/ you can read more about how cereal grains are killing you.

    December 13, 2010 at 08:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cole

      Yeah... All that fiber is killing us!

      Not. Very few people have celiac disease (Yet the specialized products are high thanks to the panic). And, if you want to make a list of "antinutrients" then you need to list EVERY SINGLE FOOD there is; start with the superfood like leafy greens and their evil vitamin K and milk with its evil casein.

      December 13, 2010 at 10:21 | Report abuse |
  10. Kids need dads.

    Have family us in USA visiting from New Zealand. The thing they immediately noticed is their kids having to adjust to to our having sugar in basically all of our food.

    December 13, 2010 at 08:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Neal

    Right on Karen! It's all sugar. Some are more than others and they are bad for your childs health. Extra sugary cereal on their birthday as a treat? Treating them to poor health? Grain, (of which cereals come from) have gluten and mycotoxins and start your child off on the wrong foot. They need protein and fats like eggs, meats and coconut oil. Those satisfy and cereals make them hungry again. Look around at the poor health of children and adults and it's what we are eating.

    December 13, 2010 at 08:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Kamikaze

    "along with milk, orange juice, cut-up fruit and sugar packets"

    So basically the children ate sugar, sugar, and even more sugar

    December 13, 2010 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Ted

    What I find rather funny is both groups ended up eating the same amount of calories.

    December 13, 2010 at 09:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Shannon the Archaeologist

      You don't get the full picture with calories only. Some of those calories might be coming from higher sources of fiber and protein. Since the body requires more energy to process fiber and protein, they are still better off even if the calories are the same.

      December 13, 2010 at 10:13 | Report abuse |
    • J

      Shannon – calories are calories – it's 3500 calories for a pound on the body – eat 1000 calories of candy or 1000 calories of veggies – that's still 1000 calories. The only true way to manage your weight is to expend more calories than you ingest. Carbs are not evil, nor is sugar, "white food", etc. Moderate calorie intake, moderate portions, and a bit of exercise.

      December 13, 2010 at 11:58 | Report abuse |
    • JC-VA

      Shannon, calories are calories, please refer to the Twinkie Diet, reported awhile ago here on CNN..? By that Professor..? .... that my friend throws all the crap about dieting to the toilet...

      December 13, 2010 at 15:33 | Report abuse |
  14. The_Mick

    The photo shows, rejected, one of the few cereals that's actually LOW in sugar! Cheerios is about 6% sugar vs over 25% for most others!

    Additionally, the article reports: "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."

    But the article concludes kids don't especially prefer high sugar cereals. So what does it mean when they'll eat more if is high sugar???

    VERY poorly done!

    December 13, 2010 at 09:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Steve T

    Why were sugar packets provided for the low-sugar group?

    Far more than people believe, kids will eat what is put in front of them, if they are told that is the only choice. The idea that kids have to "like" everything they eat is what is causing childhood obesity. Of course they will prefer sugary cereal, or white bread, or the "Lunchables" sodium-bombs that so many people pack in their kids' lunches – if they are given the choice. The human palate naturally gets lit-up when tasting fat and sugar. However, if parents simply don't offer the junk as an option, then it won't be eaten.

    Try it sometime. Trust me, your child won't starve.

    December 13, 2010 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • vipul

      Exactly right.

      December 13, 2010 at 09:57 | Report abuse |
  16. ***

    Sugar is bad, high fructose corn syrup worse and it's in everything!

    December 13, 2010 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JC-VA

      That’s “bolony”, your body doesn't know the difference...

      December 13, 2010 at 15:36 | Report abuse |
  17. Mary

    What do I do when someone who is obese dumps tons of sugar on everything I serve? I'm worried.

    December 13, 2010 at 09:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NewYorker in NJ

      'Run out of' sugar. See how they cope without it!

      December 13, 2010 at 09:47 | Report abuse |
  18. NewYorker in NJ

    My kids (ages 9, 7,4) eat only plain, low-sugar cereals, such as Kashi GoLean, plain Cheerios and regular oatmeal. They don't even like the sweet stuff and actually ASK for the healthy stuff!
    It's all just a matter of what you get them used to. And yes, you can change their habits, you just have to do it slowly: add some unsweetened cereal to the sweet stuff, keep increasing the amount of the unsweetened stuff and before you know it, they will be used to the better cereal. It just takes discipline on the parents' part. (And, I guess, therein lies the rub....)

    December 13, 2010 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. *&*&*&*&

    Sad story

    December 13, 2010 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. vipul

    My 7 yo switched last month from high-sugar "kids" serial to my serial. The real danger is that kids are surrounded by foods that all have too much sugar. After years of eating too much sugar in everything, this calibrates your taste to expect that much sugar, so things with normal amounts of sugar seem bland or tasteless. There ought to be extra tax on kids food with too much sugar.

    BTW, the worst trick I have seen is repackaging regular candy as "snack". Don't assume that if you buy something called "snack" is it different from sugary candy.

    December 13, 2010 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Tom Hartman

    Our kids won't eat anything but Fruit Loops and the like. They aren't overweight and they're great about brushing. If it's the worst thing they eat in their diet I'm OK way with it.

    December 13, 2010 at 09:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. razzlea

    Starting kids on sweets is not a healhy start into their life journey . I dont agree with parents that say that their kids only ask for sugary things or a specific item because they wouldn'tv known about unless the parents introduced their kids to them to begin with. Check out my health and fitness blog http://razzlea.blogspot.com/

    December 13, 2010 at 10:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cole

      Milk has sugar. Hey, let's stop feeding kids milk! THE SUGAR!!! AHHHHH!!!! Human milk has more sugar than cow's milk. Stop the breast feeding!

      Or let's not be all stupid. Sugar is good. Sugar is energy. It's the preferred source of energy for your brain. And, although protein can be converted to glucose, it's just good to have the actual stuff ready to go. It's awesome to consume it post-exercise (I'm betting most that commented here don't exercise), since carbs are great for glycogen recovery.

      Too much sugar (and of everything) is bad. But, even excess sugar isn't the big culprit when it comes to childhood obesity. Prime suspect? Lack of exercise/activity. You really want to keep your kid healthy? Limit the time spent on video games, TV, PC, phone, etc. while encourage physical activity, everything from walking around in the mall to driving them to the ice rink.

      December 13, 2010 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
    • JC-VA

      THANK YOU Cole!!!

      December 13, 2010 at 15:39 | Report abuse |
  23. Taylor

    My favorite cereal growing up (and still is) is Cheerios with All Bran on top! It is fantastic and gives you lots of healthy fiber. The only time I ever got to eat the sugary cereal is when we went on camping trips and my mom would buy the pack of mini boxes of cereal.

    December 13, 2010 at 10:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. ed

    My kid eats KAshi heart to heart, Joe's o's and plain raisin bran. No added sugar and no damn sugar cereals, they are the devil.

    December 13, 2010 at 10:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • whatnext

      Good ol' Raisin Bran. 19 grams of sugar per serving. What do you think that white stuff is on the raisins?

      December 13, 2010 at 11:31 | Report abuse |
    • Shelly

      For real, sugary cereal is the devil...One bowl of cereal w/11grams of sugar isn't going to kill a normally healthy child who is active and still eats fruit and vegetables. Come on people-all three of my kids are healthy and yes, they've eaten lucky charms.

      December 13, 2010 at 19:05 | Report abuse |
  25. J

    My kids mostly eat Kix and the Cheerios version of Fruit Loops. They don't add sugar. They also don't drink juice which is nothing but sugar. At 10 and 7 they know they have to check the sugar grams before I'll buy a cereal. Anything over 8 gms is a no/no. I'm not a nut about it, but I try to keep the added sugar down.

    December 13, 2010 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. publius enigma

    Ive always liked Cheerios.

    December 13, 2010 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. eyesroll

    As someone who has worked with young children in daycare, I can tell you that we can 100% tell who ate the Froot Loops and who ate the Cheerios when they all arrive in the a.m. If you are feeding that much sugar to your kids first thing, they will spend their morning running around screaming, fighting with others and then massively crashing. They will then spend their afternoons cranky and subdued. It was so obvious and surprising, and ever since seeing that I would NEVER give my kids that much sugar first thing. You are doing them a huge disservice, and putting them behind their peers.

    December 13, 2010 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Ken

    True story. I was with my sons at the grocery store and I said we have to buy cereal with as little sugar in it as possible. They pulled out their ipods and calculated the sugar levels based on the nutritional panel and chose an acceptable cereal. I won't be happy until sugar and fructose are out of our foods but at least my kids are aware and making better choices.

    December 13, 2010 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Fuyuko

    My parents never bought the sugar cereals for me and so I got accustomed to eating the low sugar varieties, and I like them just fine.

    December 13, 2010 at 11:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Tom

    I liked the old Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin would put lots of extra sugar on his Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs so he could eat the really important bit – the sugar sludge left in the bottom of the bowl :-).

    December 13, 2010 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. GetReal

    Why feed kids cereal? It really isn't good for you, even the unsweetened stuff. Kids should be eating a hearty breakfast, not refined carbohydrates. And unless the milk is raw (or rice milk) they shouldn't be consuming it at all. I'm supposed to be cheering because kids don't want candy for breakfast? Yippee.

    December 13, 2010 at 11:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cole

      So, you think it's a good idea to feed potentially contaminated milk to kids? You also think it's good to feed kids rice milk, which has the most sugar out of all "milks," and has zip in protein and calcium? I'm curious what you base your "reasoning" on, because it's neither science nor common sense.

      Why give kids cereal? Because it can be part of a good meal. It's eaten with milk, a great source of protein and calcium. And as Tom pointed out in the comment above, kids like the sweetened milk and will finish it. So, for breakfast, you've already supplied the protein and carb (and potentially some fiber). Round it out with some fat and fiber and it's a nutritionally balanced meal. Options? A piece of fruit and some nuts would be ideal. If not, a piece of multi/whole grain toast with some nut butter will do. If they won't go for that, okay, give in a bit and make it nutella. Is nutella healthy? Of course not. But, having the added fat and fiber will keep the kid full for longer, so the odds of a bad snack (or just hunger) before lunch are much lower. It's taking a step back to take 2 forward.

      So, that's why you feed kids cereal. Because it's only part of the breakfast. And, it's a damn good part thanks to the milk.

      December 13, 2010 at 12:13 | Report abuse |
  32. Seashell72

    My girls get to choose a sweetened cereal once a week. The faves are generally Frosted Flakes or Fruit Loops. The rest of the week, they vary between toast and peanut butter, hard boiled eggs, or "grown-up" cereal with no extra sugar added. Yesterday my 8 yr old made them breakfast – Rice Krispies with sliced bananas and milk. Makes a mom proud that they already know how to make better choices!

    December 13, 2010 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • emtz

      no need of intellect! 🙂 good job you deserve a golden star on your forehead!

      December 13, 2010 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
  33. Masa D. Luffy

    Kids don't always prefer sweet cereals because they can't see why the cool kids love Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

    ...Don't you want to be cool?

    December 13, 2010 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. JJ

    When my 2 and 4 year old get to choose their own cereals, the choices are Special K and Rice Chex. I have purchased as special treats a few of the higher sugar cereals and they just won't eat them. They don't add any table sugar either, but they do have a piece of fruit and glass of milk with their breakfast.

    December 13, 2010 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. nn

    Cereal is high carb and high sugar. That is a good way to set yourself up for diabetes. Best choice for breakfast is protein, as in scrambled eggs. If you need a carb it should be a small amount of oatmeal or cream of wheat, with no sugar added.

    December 13, 2010 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. JC-VA

    MMhhh, tell that to my husband who is 51 yrs old and love Lucky Charms in the morning..... and he is in great shape actually....

    December 13, 2010 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Asmaria

    Wow, I guess kids have changed. When I was a kid, the only healthy cereal I liked was my parents' granola (not sure of the brand). I absolutely loathed cherios, any kind of plain flakes, or chex unless it was in chex mix. I lived for the weekends when I could go have cocoa pebbles at my grandma's house, and that was always the first box to disappear in the 'assorted fun packs' or whatever they were called.

    Not that it was a good idea to have given me all that sugar. Hyper was an understatement, and healthy food is best. I just don't see how kids 'like' the plain foods.

    December 13, 2010 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Dr. Mama

    More evidence that sugar + salt + fat is the most addictive combination on earth. If only we could convince our kids that food is fuel - not comfort, not an antidote to boredom, not a reward. If only we could convince ourselves!


    December 13, 2010 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. MomtoBLBM

    Interesting. I have to wonder how much sugar is "too much." We love cereal so I have a lot on hand. I was surprised that the cereals I love and thought healthy have more sugar than those the kids love. Great Grains 14g Special K Yogurt & Fruit 10 Raisin Bran 17g. Yet the kids' Reeses Puffs 11g Frosted Flakes 8g. Makes frosted flakes seem like a health food. Hard to find any consensus here.

    December 13, 2010 at 17:42 | Report abuse | Reply
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