Public Health Nutrition

Marketing and communication

Nutrition-related claims on children's cereals: what do they mean to parents and do they influence willingness to buy?

Jennifer L Harrisa1 c1, Jacqueline M Thompsona1, Marlene B Schwartza1 and Kelly D Brownella1

a1 Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University, 309 Edwards Street, New Haven, CT 06520-8369, USA

Abstract

Objective To examine parents’ beliefs about the meaning of common front-of-package nutrition-related claims on children's cereals and determine whether the claims would make them more willing to buy the cereals.

Design Parents viewed images of box fronts for children's cereals of below-average nutritional quality, as assessed by a validated nutrient profiling model. These boxes featured various nutrition-related claims including ‘supports your child's immunity’, ‘whole grain’, ‘fibre’, ‘calcium and vitamin D’ and ‘organic’. Participants were provided possible meanings for these claims and asked to select any that applied with the option to write in additional meanings. They also indicated how the claim would affect their willingness to buy the product.

Setting Online survey.

Subjects Parents with children between the ages of 2 and 11 years (n 306) recruited through an online panel.

Results The majority of parents misinterpreted the meaning of claims commonly used on children's cereals. They inferred that cereals with claims were more nutritious overall and might provide specific health-related benefits for their children; and these beliefs predicted greater willingness to buy the cereals.

Conclusions These findings indicate that common front-of-package nutrition-related claims are potentially misleading, especially when placed on products with high levels of nutrients to limit (e.g. sugar, sodium) and low levels of other nutrients to encourage (e.g. fibre, protein). Additional regulation is needed to protect consumers in the USA.

(Received October 08 2010)

(Accepted June 08 2011)

(Online publication August 02 2011)

Correspondence

c1 Corresponding author: Email Jennifer.harris@yale.edu

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