US children are consuming more than 4.5 kg of sugar annually if they eat a typical morning bowl of cereal each day, contributing to obesity and other health problems, and cereal makers and regulators are doing little to address the issue, according to a recent study.
The Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based health information non-profit, said its report covers more than 1 500 cereals, including 181 marketed to children.
As part of the report, the group re-examined 84 cereals it studied in a similar report in 2011, and found that the sugar content of those cereals remained on average at 29%. Some cereals had increased sugar content now compared to 2011, and none of the 181 cereals marketed to children was free of added sugars, the group found. On average, children's cereals have more than 40% more sugars than adult cereals, EWG said.
"Obviously we know cereals contain a lot of sugar," said Dawn Undurraga, an EWG consultant and a co-author of the report. "But there is a lot that manufacturers and the FDA can be doing, to protect kids."
The group said one of the worst offenders is Kellogg Co.'s Honey Smacks, with 56% sugar by weight.
A child eating an average serving of a typical children's cereal eats more than 4.5 kg of sugar a year from that source alone, and the average daily intake of added sugar for children is two to three times the recommended amount, the EWG said.
Cutting unhealthy ingredients
A Kellogg official said the company has cut sugar in its top-selling kids' cereals by 20% to 30% over time. The company said the EWG report ignores the benefits provided by a cereal breakfast, including pre-sweetened cereals.
"When you consider what constitutes a good breakfast, cereal and fat free milk pack a powerful nutritional punch, lower in fat and calories than many other breakfast choices, and including many nutrients that people might otherwise miss," said company spokeswoman Kris Charles.
The report is the latest in a push by consumer and health groups to convince food companies and regulators to cut unhealthy ingredients from packaged food products.
Read: Nestle to cut sugar in cereals
In March, the Food and Drug Administration proposed that added sugar content be listed in nutrition facts panels on packaged foods. But the serving sizes need to be more accurately labelled, the EWG said.
Cereal maker General Mills also has already cut the sugar content in its cereals advertised to children, on average by 16% since 2007, according to spokeswoman Kirstie Foster. The company's cereals advertised to children have 10 g of sugar or less per serving, with some at 9 g, Foster said.
The EWG said companies should not market cereals containing 6 g of sugar or more per serving to children.
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