Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Breakfast cereal makers battle in a highly competitive market that includes seeing who can devise the most clever product name, the cutest mascot and the brightest box decorations. Cereals also have a distinct look so that a child can immediately distinguish Fruit Loops from Cap’n Crunch.
Boil it down, though, and many cereals marketed to children are basically the same. They’re boxes of sugar posing as nutritious foods.
Like other product manufacturers, cereal makers focus on positives, including the vitamins and fiber that come in every bowl.
But, as reported Monday by USA Today, the nation’s largest cereal maker is under fire from nutrition experts for stating on boxes of Cocoa Krispies that it “Now helps support your child’s immunity.” The word “immunity,” which also appears on Frosted Krispies, Jumbo Multi-Grain Krispies and Rice Krispies, is in bold letters as large as the product name together with the assertion that those cereals now contains 25 percent of the daily requirements of vitamins A, B, C and E.
Although the nation is experiencing a swine flu pandemic, Kellogg denied it is capitalizing on the outbreak because development of the new cereals began more than a year ago.
But the suggestion that Cocoa Krispies, for example, will help a child’s immunity is dubious. The cereal, with its high sugar content, certainly does not make children immune from crippling diabetes and unhealthy weight gain.
What does Kellogg’s immunity claim mean?
Getting an answer to that question is why we support San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s decision to send a letter to Kellogg and to the Food and Drug Administration asking the company to prove its claim. Kellogg’s response, that it developed the cereals to create more positive nutrition, is simply not good enough.
Herrera is right to be concerned that Kellogg’s immunity claim may “mislead and deceive” parents of young children.
The FDA should also take this matter seriously and pay closer attention to the claims made by other cereal makers, too.