MONDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Getting kids to happily eat
nutritious, low-sugar breakfast cereals may be child's play,
A new study finds that children will gladly chow down on
low-sugar cereals if they're given a selection of choices at
breakfast, and many compensate for any missing sweetness by opting
for fruit instead.
The 5-to-12-year-olds in the study still ate about the same
amount of calories regardless of whether they were allowed to
choose from cereals high in sugar or a low-sugar selection.
However, the kids weren't inherently opposed to healthier cereals,
the researchers found.
"Don't be scared that your child is going to refuse to eat breakfast. The kids will eat it," said study co-author Marlene B. Schwartz, deputy director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
Nutritionists have long frowned on sugary breakfast cereals that
are heavily marketed by cereal makers and gobbled up by kids. In
Consumer Reports analyzed cereals marketed to kids and found
that each serving of 11 leading brands had about as much sugar as a
glazed donut. The magazine also reported that two cereals were more
than half sugar by weight and nine others were at least 40 percent
This week, food giant General Mills announced that it is
reducing the sugar levels in its cereals geared toward children,
although they'll still have much more sugar than many adult
In the meantime, many parents believe that if cereals aren't
loaded with sweetness, kids won't eat them.
But is that true? In the new study, researchers offered
different breakfast cereal choices to 91 urban children who took
part in a summer day camp program in New England. Most were from
minorities families and about 60 percent were Spanish-speaking.
Of the kids, 46 were allowed to choose from one of three
high-sugar cereals: Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Pebbles,
which all have 11-12 grams of sugar per serving. The other 45 chose
from three cereals that were lower in sugar: Cheerios, Rice
Krispies and Kellogg's Corn Flakes. They all have 1-4 grams of
sugar per serving.
All the kids were also able to choose from low-fat milk, orange
juice, bananas, strawberries and extra sugar.
The study findings appear in the January issue of
Taste did matter to kids, but when given a choice between the
three low-sugar cereals, 90 percent "found a cereal that they liked
or loved," the authors report.
In fact, "the children were perfectly happy in both groups,"
Schwartz said. "It wasn't like those in the low-sugar group said
they liked the cereal less than the other ones."
The kids in both groups also took in about the same amount of
calories at breakfast. But the children in the high-sugar group
filled up on more cereal and consumed almost twice as much refined
sugar as did the others. They also drank less orange juice and ate
Len Marquart, an associate professor of food science and
nutrition at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, said the study
findings "confirm for people that their choices in the cereal aisle
do make a difference."
"The biggest challenges are taste and marketing. In the morning, kids are sleepy and cranky, and it's hard to get them to sit down and eat breakfast," he said. "The sugar cereals marketed with flash and color and cartoon characters help get kids to the kitchen table when nothing else seems to work. And, we have to be realistic, they do like the taste of presweetened cereals."
But one solution is to be creative, he said. "Take Cheerios and
put some strawberries and vanilla yogurt on top, and that's going
to taste better than any presweetened cereal anyway," Marquart
There's more on children's nutrition at the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.