Kids’ breakfast products in the US are more sugary than some popular desserts

18 Jul 2022

School meal breakfast programmes in the US are buying breakfast products with "as much or more" added sugars as some popular desserts, according to the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

The Washington, DC-based food and health watchdog made the comments on the recent launch of its campaign, urging Kellogg and other breakfast product manufacturers to stop selling products high in added sugars to school meals programmes.

Kids’ breakfast products in the US are more sugary than some popular desserts

The campaign follows CSPI's investigation in November into 2,000 products sold by 28 food companies into the K-12 school market – a term used to describe schools from kindergarten to 12th grade.

It found that most school breakfast products would meet Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommended added sugar standard from 2020 – i.e. that no more than 10% of calories come from added sugars. For more than three-fourths of the 36 food group categories fed to early school grade children (kindergarten to grade 5) and grades 9 to 12, companies were hitting the 10% target 75% of the time.

Nevertheless, for the times when companies were not DGA compliant, the CSPI stressed that some "blew past the 10% guideline".

Worst offenders: Kellogg, General Mills & Rich Products

According to CSPI's infographic, some of the companies with the lowest percentage of in-range products for the 10% DGA guideline include; Rich Products in the 'condiments and toppings' category, hitting target just 33% of the time; General Mills Convenience and Foodservice, which met the DGA target 36% of the time for kindergarten to grade 5 in the Yoghurt category; and Kellogg, which hit target 40% of the time for kindergarten to 5th graders in the 'pancakes, waffles, French toast and pastries' category.

In its latest campaign, CSPI goes on to highlight specific products such as Kellogg's twin-pack of Frosted Cinnamon Pop-Tarts Made with Whole Grain, which contains 30 grams of added sugars, "about seven teaspoons". This is more added sugars than a six-pack of Oreo cookies, the watchdog said.

Other high-in-sugar school breakfast products include a 2 oz. single-serving container of Post Holdings' Marshmallow Mateys cereal, containing 23 grams of added sugars (five and a half teaspoons), which it said is higher than a Butterfinger Bar.

General Mills' Lucky Charms cereal, meanwhile, has 19 grams of added sugars (four and a half teaspoons), "as much as you'll find in a Hostess Cupcake".

"These foods may not align with your idea of a healthy school breakfast, but companies are selling breakfast products to school meal programmes with as much or more added sugars than you’d find in some popular desserts," the watchdog stressed.

Appeal to US food makers: ‘Kids deserve a healthier start’

"Kids deserve a healthier start to their school day. CSPI’s latest campaign asks Kellogg and other companies to stop selling products high in added sugars as breakfast foods to the school meals programme."

CSPI, together with the American Heart Association and the American Public Health Association is also petitioning the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to set a standard for added sugars in schools meals in line with DGA guidance. No such standard is currently in place, and no response has yet been made by USDA, CSPI said.

What are other countries around the world doing?

Some other regions in the world have already implemented strict guidance to ensure school children are fed healthy diets.

The UK, for example, has instigated the School Food Regulations 2014 following campaigns led by the TV chef, Jamie Oliver.

The regulations limit the amount of foods high in sugar, fat and salt which schools can give to children on a weekly basis, with weekly caps of two portions of food that have been deep fried, batter coated or breadcrumbed, two portions of foods which include pastry, and rules that desserts, cakes and biscuits "must not contain any confectionery".

It recommends avoiding snacks with added sugar, salt and fat, and to reduce the amount of sugar used overall.

On breakfasts, it states specifically: "Porridge is a great breakfast food. Use fruit to sweeten if necessary. Otherwise, choose fortified breakfast cereals with higher fibre and low or medium sugar content. Avoid cereals with lots of added sugar and salt."

It adds: "Foods high in fat, sugar and salt are restricted or not permitted at times other than lunch."

Related news

Plant-based and processed: Avoiding the next big health debate

Plant-based and processed: Avoiding the next big health debate

2 Feb 2024

Calls for clarity around ultra-processed food (UPFs) and ongoing debates on potential classification may bring the health credentials of plant-based food under the spotlight, which is why education is so necessary.

Read more