Hats off to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for its unmasking of the atrocious amounts of sugar that cereal makers are putting into their products. EWG found that servings of three cereals—Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, Post Golden Crisp, and Wheaties Fuel—contain more sugar than a Hostess Twinkie! Another 44 contain more sugar than three Chips Ahoy cookies. Sugar is more than a third of cereal by weight in more than 36 types.
This is particularly galling since the industry came down like gangbusters on a mere voluntary series of guidelines proffered by four federal agencies (FTC, CDC, USDA, and FDA) in a report that suggested reducing levels of sugar in cereal would be a healthy move by the manufacturers. The guidelines are, in fact, pretty moderate. They would allow 13 grams of added sugar per 50 grams of cereal, amounting to one-quarter of the sugar by weight. Two in three of the cereals EWG tested exceed that level. The cereal industry hired lobbyists galore, and the authors of the report were forced to revise it.
Industry’s response to the EWG report? Once again, manufacturers cry that the report is unfair because only two of the 10 worst cereals are marketed to children. So their argument is that eight of the 10 are marketed to adults—2/3 of whom are overweight as it is? (Obesity rates have doubled for children age 2-11 and more than tripled for teens 12-19.) By industry reckoning, I guess its okay to throw the whole bowl of sugar into cereal as long as it’s being marketed to those of us who should know better. No, we Americans need to be weaned from our expectation that everything we eat needs to be extra sweet or extra salty (see NCL’s recent comments on FDA’s proposal for sodium reductions). Excessive amounts of sugar and salt contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke and industry clearly won’t reduce those levels on its own.
Thanks to EWG for its report, and shame on the cereal industry for pandering—indeed helping to create—the American sugar addiction. I hope this study serves as a further wake up call to an industry needs to reform its ways.