Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Trix indeed

General Mills and other major cereal makers will follow the lead of Kellogg and limit advertising of breakfast cereals on children's TV shows, unless the cereals meet certain nutrition criteria (see Brooks Barnes in the New York Times today).

One loophole -- which the news reports noticed -- is that the manufacturers will continue to advertise sugary cereals on family shows, such as American Idol, which actually have a larger audience of young children than the so-called children's shows do.

Another loophole -- which the news reports did not notice -- is that the manufacturers are using tricky numbers. They declared that they would not advertise products with more than 12g of sugar per serving on the children's shows. But, they use smaller serving sizes for some high-sugar cereals, such as Cocoa Puffs, so that these cereals appear to meet the standard.

Here is the lead of the New York Times article:
Trix are no longer for kids — at least not on children’s television shows. But Cocoa Puffs are another matter.

Trying to persuade critics the industry does not need government regulation, 11 big food companies, including McDonald’s, Campbell Soup and PepsiCo, have agreed to stop advertising to children under 12 products that do not meet certain nutritional standards. Some of the companies, like Coca-Cola, have already withdrawn all such commercials or are in the process of doing so. Others, like General Mills, said they would withdraw them over the next year or so, while a handful agreed to expand their self-imposed bans to radio, print and Internet advertising.

Still, the agreements will probably amount to a ripple rather than a sea change in terms of what foods children see pitched on their favorite television shows and Web sites. For example, while General Mills will no longer be advertising Trix to the 12-and-under crowd, it will continue to peddle Cocoa Puffs, which have one less gram of sugar per serving.
On the General Mills website, Cocoa Puffs appear to have 12g of sugar, which would barely meet the standard (click for larger image).

Meanwhile, Trix appears to have 13g of sugar, which would exceed the standard (click for larger image).

But watch out. General Mills' Cocoa Puffs label uses a serving size of 27g, while the company's Trix label uses a larger serving size of 32g. Using the government's customary serving size of 30g for Cocoa Puffs and Trix, both cereals exceed 12g per serving. See these links to labels for Cocoa Puffs (14g sugar) and Trix (13g sugar) on the NutritionData website.

By using a smaller serving size, General Mills made the amount of sugar in Cocoa Puffs look smaller. Really, Cocoa Puffs have more sugar than Trix.

What does it say about the voluntary guidelines that Cocoa Puffs will still be peddled to your kids on children's television?


Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I do not know much about the effectiveness of wetland mitigation policies but I wonder what the effect would be if food companies had to comply with "nutritional advertising mitigation" policies for foods with low nutrient density?

For example: what if food companies for every dollar they spent in the development and purchase of advertising for sugary cereal and other such products had to donate that same value to a fund that could purchase comparable public service announcements for nutrient dense foods and aired during the same dates and times as the other commercials?

Anonymous said...

Although in this case there doesn't seem to be a big discrepancy, you need to be careful about using the USDA database (which is what those NutritionData items are from) for brand name packaged (and restaurant) food items.

By the time a packaged food gets in the USDA database, it's probably undergone two or three reformulations (compare the McDonald's data in the USDA database to the current nutritional information, for instance).

Where the USDA data is useful is in looking at nutrients other than those that are required to be disclosed on the Nutrition Facts label.

usfoodpolicy said...

Good point about the USDA database, but in this case the issue is not about the composition of the product. The trick of using a serving size of 27g is what makes Cocoa Puffs appear to meet the standard of having 12g of sugar per serving. Based on General Mills' own authoritative nutrition facts panel, Cocoa Puffs have more than 13g of sugar per serving -- if one uses a typical serving size of 30g or General Mills' own preferred serving size on other cereals of 32g.