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Who’s Responsible For The Cereals That Fatten Up Our Kids?
You can just make up your own “cereal killers” pun for this subhead
If sugar can largely be blamed for our widespread outbreak of childhood overweight and obesity — and other than those employed by the C&H company, most health experts believe that it can — that blame can more specifically be attributed to the two products that deliver far and away more sugar or sugar-based sweeteners (think HFCS) into kids’ bodies than any others: soft drinks and other sweetened beverages, and breakfast cereals.
Of the two, the cereals strike me as the more insidious, since while the drinks are marketed to a broad demographic, the cereals are pitched quite directly and voluminously to children, almost from the first day they are able to focus on a TV screen. To quote from my delightful e-book, “115 Reasons Why It’s Not Your Fault If You’re Fat“: http://forum.lowcarber.org/showthread.php?p=8823987#post8823987
Fully 90 percent of American kids are regular TV viewers by the age of two, and by the age of five have seen, on average, over 4,000 food commercials…per year. There is a celebrated UCLA media study which found that American kids view, on average, one food commercial every five minutes on Saturday morning TV, with up to 95 percent of the ads promoting food products that have the approximate nutritional value of a place mat, primarily sugar-laden cereals, fatty snacks, soft drinks and fast food.
Note that the cereals ranked first in frequency.
But if sugary cereals get much of the blame for childhood obesity, who gets the blame for sugary cereals? Who is responsible for creating and successfully promoting this dietary felony? As it turns out, you could equally hang the Guilty label on one of the Kellogg brothers, or C.W. Post, or a heating equipment salesman from Philadelphia, or an opera singer named Thurl Ravenscroft. Here’s the story.
The history of breakfast cereals is essentially one gigantic irony. The whole idea behind the very first one, a flake of wheat, was that it would be a health enhancement. (Indeed that was even the idea behind the first sugar-coated cereal later on.) The original cereal was cooked up by the Kellogg boys, Will and Dr. John, in 1894, in an attempt to put wheat into a form more digestible than toast. http://www.lowcarbfriends.com/bbs/vegetarian/696691-vegetarian-recipes.html#post16723150
In 1898, they applied the same process to corn, and the corn flake was born, but on Dr. John’s insistence, it could contain no sweeteners and could only be sold by mail, to his patients, as a health food. Two years later, one of the food industry’s classic feuds began, when a former patient of Dr. Kellogg’s, C.W. Post, allegedly stole his formula for a non-coffee breakfast drink and made a fortune marketing it as Postum. In 1902, Post lifted the corn flake concept as well, and began selling Post Toasties on the general market.
This infuriated Will Kellogg, who brushed off his brother’s fears of commercialization and began hyping Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, which promptly took off. For the next half century, it would be the No. 1 selling dry cereal in America, invariably followed closely by the No. 2 seller, Post Toasties. But it would take 36 of those years before the cereal industry began seriously sweetening their products. And even then, it wasn’t the cereal industry that did it.
The reason for that? The primary selling point of cereal throughout the industry had thus far always been that cold cereals were a healthy breakfast option, free of the nutritional drawbacks of butter, bacon, syrup and so forth. Adding sugar at the factory would break with a fundamental industry tradition and ideology. Thus it was a guy named Jim Rex, our Philadelphia salesman, who in 1939 grew concerned that his kids were ladling way too much sugar onto their unsweetened cereal, and so came up with the idea of sugar-coating puffed wheat, the point being to remove the oversweetening option from the kitchen table. http://www.minimins.com/healthy-eating-forum/295894-benefits-honey-weight-loss.html
For reasons lost in the mists of time, and with a casual regard for spelling, he called his brainchild Ranger Joe Wheat Honnies, and got them distributed to a few markets in the northeast coastal U.S.. They were, most significantly, advertised as something you could equally eat for breakfast or enjoy as a snack right out of the box. And they sold like something Steve Jobs had thought up.
This was not lost on the ever-adaptive Post company, which copied the concept and in 1948 came out with their own snack cereal, which they called Happy Jax until the folks at Cracker Jack threatened to sue, obliging Post to change the name to Sugar Crisp. It was a huge success, basically ended the principles-versus-profits debate for good, and quickly helped crank up the Kelloggs-Post sugar wars with products like Sugar Corn Pops and Sugar Frosted Flakes.
To promote the latter, Kellogg’s in 1952 came up with an animated Tiger named Tony, voiced by the above-noted basso Ravenscroft, whose signature line “They’re grr-r-r-eat!” helped make Frosted Flakes the best-selling sugar-coated cereal in America, and launched a legion of sweetened cereals fronted by animated spokesmascots ranging from the Trix rabbit and Cocoa Puffs bird to the likes of Count Chocula and Cap’n Crunch.
The rest, as they say, is history, unless they happen to be child nutritionists, in which case they use stronger language to describe the ensuing wave of snack cereals, some of which literally contain more sugar than any other ingredient. http://www.mydietsolutions.com/fitness-fun-and-exercise/11973-is-there-any-benefit-of-honey-in-weight-loss.html#11973
So, who do we blame for the current state of affairs in the cereal industry? My pick would be those who advertise the products on children’s TV programming knowing how easily led and motivated young kids are and how effectively they can be manipulated to get to the parents’ pocketbook. Ultimately, however, we are stuck with the reality that no one forces these products on the public. They fill the shelves because we buy them of our own free will.
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