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Cerealously

I went grocery shopping the other night. I was in the breakfast cereal isle to get a box of Cheerios® (my daughter’s favorite) and right next to them were the boxes of Kellogg’s® Frosted Mini-Wheats®. On the front of the mini-wheats box, taking up the entire top third of the packaging, it read:

“Clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%.”

That is an impressive statement. Clinically shown? Improved attentiveness in kids? Twenty percent? This most certainly gets the attention of parents who are looking to improve the nutrition habits of the family. It almost seems too good to be true. Perhaps a less skeptical parent might accept this claim as true and move on with the purchase of the cereal for their family.

But wait … there is a small number “1” at the very end of the “Clinically shown …” statement. It is a footnote. I guess the Kellogg’s® legal department are on top of things, because you can’t make claims such as this without backing it up. I scoured the box further in search of the footnote to see what else they had to say. In reading the back of the box, the “Clinically shown…” statement appears again just as prominently as it does on the front of the box. However, right beside the statement is a few sentences that delve deeper into its meaning. It reads:

“The combination of Kellogg’s® Frosted Mini-Wheats® eight layers of whole grains and fiber work together to keep kids full so that they can stay focused throughout the morning. Fiber helps slow down the eating process and may contribute to a feeling of being full. Whole grains slows digestion of carbohydrates to release energy over a longer period of time.”

Although this was not the footnote I was looking for, it does offer some explanation to Kellogg’s® perception of their product. Does their cereal help keep kids full throughout the morning? By itself, this does not seem to be a stretch. However, the same could probably be said for many breakfast cereals. I would venture that the sugar content of breakfast cereals would help determine which ones do a better job of sustaining kids in the first few hours following breakfast. The lower percentage of sugar, the better the results, though I could not find a study to check my guess, so I’ll leave it in my “mental common sense” pile for the time being. Does fiber really slow down the “eating process” (a peculiar verbiage Kellogg’s® chose) and contribute to a sensation of “feeling full?” It would appear so. There are several references on the internet attesting to this. One example from the folks over at Families.com states:

“The beautiful thing about fiber is that the human body cannot digest it. We can chew it and it feels crunchy, allowing us to satisfy our need to chew. It provides bulk, helping us to feel full after a meal high in it.”

As far as the notion of whole grains slowing down digestion, thereby releasing energy over a longer period of time that seems to hold validity as well. Several on-line sources will attest to this. Askmen.com offers this:

“When (whole grains) are digested, carbohydrates form glucose, which is transported around the body in the blood before it is absorbed by the cells and converted into energy. The more refined the carbohydrate is, the faster it releases glucose into the bloodstream (high GI). This causes blood sugar levels to rise and fall very quickly. The more complex the carbohydrate is (low GI), the longer it takes for the body to digest it — this provides a slower release of energy.”

So far, Kellogg’s® seems to have the nutritional science correct. Their high-fiber Frosted Mini-Wheats® would appear to have the benefits that complex carbohydrates possess. But their statements about the benefits of the digestion of fiber do not address their original claim that it improves the attentiveness of kids. Perhaps less skeptical parents would stop reading at this point, satisfied that the statements about dietary fiber must be the source of improving their kid’s attentiveness. So I continued to search for the elusive footnote. And I eventually found it.

Just below the fiber facts paragraph, there are a series of focus exercises and games, including a sudoku puzzle, a hidden-word game, and a mental exercise concerning phonetics. Up to this point, 98% of the back cover of the box has been explored. At the very bottom right hand corner of the box, in the smallest type-set possible (probably the minimum size that is legally required), only accounting for about 2% of the total space on the back cover of the box is the number “1” (the footnote denotation) followed by these words:

“Based upon independent clinical research, kids who ate Kellogg’s® Frosted Mini-Wheats® cereal for breakfast had up to 18% better attentiveness three hours after breakfast than kids who ate no breakfast. For more information, visit www.frostedminiwheats.com

The devil is always in the details, isn’t it? They are comparing children who ate the cereal for breakfast against children who ate NOTHING for breakfast. Gee, what a shock. Would it have been too much of a real test to compare kids who ate Cheerios® or an apple or some wheat toast to those that ate the Frosted Mini-Wheats®? Instead, the folks at Kellogg’s® feel that it is safe to legally infer via this  marketing campaign that becasue one of their high fiber cereals helps keep kids full in the morning, the product positively influences children’s attentiveness because the children are not distracted by hunger.  Maybe the legal and marketing products of other food manufacturers should take a page from Kellogg’s®, as it would appear that any company that uses fiber or whole grains in their product could equally stake this claim.

What about this being “independent clinical research”? The trials and results are not available on-line for free, but you can click here to see how the research is being packaged.  (I’ll wager that if these trials were not at all subsidized by Kellogg’s® or any related companies, they would have been more transparent with that piece of information to further legitimize their claims.) But the bottom line is that kids who eat breakfast in the morning test as having better cognitive skills than kids that don’t eat breakfast. This is a fair enough statement that common sense dictates and studies confirm. But to say that Frosted Mini-Wheats® specifically is responsible for the better test results is pushing the envelope too far.  The studies should have compared kids who ate different things for breakfast, along with some who ate nothing. Those net results would make for a much more honest assessment of their product’s relationship to any cognitive improvements of children. But why should good science get in the way of a slick marketing campaign?

As I expressed earlier, a less skeptical parent might just accept Kellogg’s® claims as true and move on with the purchase of the cereal. Another way of phrasing it is that a less skeptical parent would blindly swallow the crunchy bits that the folks at Kellogg’s are serving. But cerealously folks…

9 comments to Cerealously

  • soooo? did you buy the mini wheats?

    i love mini wheats

  • Jim Shaver

    By Kellogg’s reasoning, McDonald’s could print on their happy meals, “Clinically shown to prevent death.”

  • Jenn

    adr150,

    yep, he did. he loves them too.

    Jenn (Evan’s wife)

  • llysenwi

    Surprisingly, despite being frosted, frosted mini-wheats contain less sugar per serving than many other breakfast cereals (not including cheerios).

  • Hi Niobe,

    Thanks for the link. I actually had not thought to search to see if anyone else covered this topic – that it was perhaps too obscure. Apparently my attentiveness is suffering a deficiency.

    Evan

  • Based on my long experience in eating breakfast, I’d have to say that cereal is pretty lousy at keeping you full. The protein is what you’re after, since that is what takes longest to digest and gives a feeling of satiety. Most cereals are pretty low in protein, and you get most of the protein from the milk its served in. A proper breakfast with, say, eggs and breakfast meats will last a lot longer than any bowl of cereal.

  • Belgarath

    Ok, let me make sure I get this right:

    If I’m not hungry, I can pay attention to things other than my hunger? Is that right? Someone actually studied that?

  • alexjbutterfield

    Pdamathos: I don’t know that the most filling food is ideal for breakfast, such as a large English breakfast. I find that something too filling makes me tired again and just not in the mood for paying attention to stuff. I’m a much bigger fan of cereal. So there’s some anecdotal evidence for ya.

    And Frosted mini wheats just so happen to be my favourite!

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