December 7th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

Sugar is on the menu for kids’ breakfast

Only one in four children’s cereals meets government guidelines for limits on sugar, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group, a consumer advocacy organization.

Proposed government guidelines recommend that cereals have no more than 26% added sugar by weight, according to the report, and the Environmental Working Group found that many popular cereals, including Froot Loops, Cap’n Crunch and Honey Smacks, had more than 40% added sugar.

“Our children deserve better,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, said in a press release issued by the Environmental Working Group.

The proposed recommendations are voluntary and not legally binding on food manufacturers. They were designed to help children slim down, because one out of three children in the United States is either overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

According to the report, a cup of some cereals has more sugar than a Twinkie or three Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookies.

Cereal makers took issue with the report.  A spokeswoman for Kellogg’s said the company has reduced the sugar in its cereals by about 16% and breakfast cereals contribute less than 4% of added sugar in the U.S. diet.

Kellogg’s makes Honey Smacks, the cereal with the highest sugar content, according to the Environmental Working Group. Linda Sutherland, the company’s vice president of nutrition, said the cereal, which has a large smiling green frog on the box, is not marketed to children.

Sutherland also noted that the report considered a full cup of cereal to be a serving, while the serving size listed on the box is .75 of a cup.

One dietitian said whether the serving size is .75 of a cup or a cup, there is no way her son would eat just one serving.

“My 9-year-old would eat three servings in one sitting if he could,” said Jeannie Moloo, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “So I only give him sugary cereals once in a while. He wants them all the time, so it’s a real battle.”

Moloo said she usually serves her children healthier options for breakfast, such as a whole wheat bagel with light cream cheese, whole wheat waffles or yogurt with fruit.

There are cereals with relatively low sugar content. Rice Krispies, for example, has 4 grams of sugar per serving, and Cheerios has 1 gram.

The 10 most sugary cereals in the report have between 19 grams and 12 grams of sugar in a cup.  A Twinkie has about 18 grams of sugar and three Chips Ahoy! cookies have 11 grams of sugar.

A statement from the Quaker Oats Co. noted that while Cap’n Crunch, fourth on the list, is “not marketed as a health product, it does include essential vitamins and minerals and offers consumers a low-fat breakfast option when paired with low-fat milk and a serving of fruit.”

CNN's Aaron Cooper contributed to this report.

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