The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity has published a study that criticizes cereal companies for allegedly promoting high-sugar products to children and portraying “unhealthy eating behaviors” in TV advertisements. Megan LoDolce, et al., “Sugar as Part of a Balanced Breakfast? What Cereal Advertisements Teach Children About Healthy Eating,” Journal of Health Communication, August 2013.

According to the study’s authors, who reportedly analyzed 158 cereal advertisements that aired between 2008 and 2009 for messaging type, creative techniques and the eating behaviors modeled, 87 percent of ads viewed by children promoted high-sugar products and “were significantly more likely to convey unrealistic and contradictory messages about cereal attributes and healthy eating.” In particular, the analysis suggested that 91 percent of high-sugar cereal ads directed at children “ascribed extraordinary powers to these products,” while 67 percent “portrayed healthy and unhealthy eating behaviors.”

“These findings also raise ethical and public health concerns about the messages used in advertising to promote products of questionable nutritional quality,” opine the researchers, who describe their study as the first to combine exposure and content analyses of children’s cereal advertisements. “Recent public health efforts, such as the Interagency Working Group nutrition recommendations and cereal company plans to reduce the sugar content in their child-targeted cereals, will help improve the nutritional quality of cereal products promoted in advertising to children. However, these efforts do not address the confusing and potentially misleading messages and creative techniques used to promote these products and their potential effects on children’s understanding of nutrition and healthy eating.” See Rudd Center Press Release, August 27, 2013.