Breakfast Cereal: A Case Study in Bad PR

Oh joy, I just received an emailed press release from a major PR agency that represents Kellogg’s cereals, announcing that a new study confirms: “People Who Eat a Daily Cereal Breakfast Maintain a Healthier Weight.” And what do you know? This study (published in the Nutrition Bulletin, June 2007) was sponsored by the Kellogg Company itself!

With all the current discussion on best-practices and proper etiquette for healthcare PR, where the f*** have these people been?!

Startrek_cereal_big_2 First off, study BS: the results announcement claims that “people who eat cereal for breakfast regularly tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and are less likely to be overweight than those who do not eat cereal for breakfast regularly.”

BUT, if you look at the Nutrition Bulletin summary of this study, you can’t figure out what they are actually comparing. Were the adults not eating cereal having a daily Java Chip Frappuccino and Starbucks scone for breakfast? Were the children in the control group eating Krispy Kremes?

Come on! Hasn’t the attempt to paint breakfast cereal as a diet food already been pounded to death? (with the exception of the real whole-grain stuff, of course).

I know the low-carb crowd agrees when I say it’s dangerous to tout breakfast cereals as a wonder-food, as their average sugar content tends to be sky-high.

And then to go and email this “breaking news” to diabetes bloggers just really takes the cake!

The press release I received tells me:

“For a healthy start to each day, the Special K Breakfast(TM) – a serving of Special K® cereal, 1/2 cup skim milk, fruit and black coffee – comes in at fewer than 250 calories. To mix things up throughout the week, choose one serving from of any of the Special K varieties…” Mind you, these include Special K Red Berries, Special K Vanilla Almond, and Special K Chocolatey Delight — which contains only 1g of fiber and 25g carb per 3/4 cup.

As a (trying-not-to-be-bitter) PWD who has had to all but give up yummy breakfast cereals due to those uncontrolloable BG spikes they cause, I’m just a little ticked off here. Lesson learned: think before you email, especially if your job is PR for a cereal company.

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13 Responses

  1. Big_Dave_T
    Big_Dave_T June 1, 2007 at 10:47 am | | Reply

    Yeah, not smart PR. I learned long ago that I need a breakfast with protein, or else I’ll be flirting with hypoglycemia in late morning. And my wife won’t let me chop up a hot dog and put it in my Rice Krispies.

    But I can’t throw too many stones here since Kellogg’s is one of the few thriving industries we have left in this depressed state of Michigan where I live. And I sometimes do have a measured bowl of Krispies, Corn Flakes, or something vitamin or fiber enriched. With some of us who don’t watch too well what we eat, it may be our healthiest meal of the day.

  2. Laura
    Laura June 1, 2007 at 10:54 am | | Reply

    Breakfast cereals are too expensive, filled with sugar and the advertising is to the likes of the way the tobacco company used to be. In my opinion, advertising aimed at children to eat these yummie chocolate sugary filled breakfast cereals that cost $5 a box is pure crazazy!!!! The only time I might, just might, eat a bowl of that junk is if my sugar has plummeted to a super low. Then, you can count on the cereals to bring it back up at sky-rocketing speeds!

  3. Kassie
    Kassie June 1, 2007 at 11:38 am | | Reply

    Ah, but I love me some Froot Loops ;)

    My husband works for Kellogg’s so I can’t really comment here :)

  4. Anne
    Anne June 1, 2007 at 11:48 am | | Reply

    Amy can you eat oatmeal? I love it. I eat it every day, usually mixing in bananas or other fruit. It can cause a spike in BG’s if I don’t take my insulin a few minutes before, but with a glass of skim milk, it makes for a very healthy breakfast. It’s not necessarily low-cal but it could be if you ate less than I do! My cholesterol profile has improved since I started eating it daily a few years ago. I don’t own any stake in Quaker–I just really love oatmeal! :)

    And regarding Kellogg’s PR campaign. I think there was another study that showed that basically eating any sort of breakfast helped in weight control. (I mean “any breakfast” within reason of course. I think the idea is that if you starve yourself in the morning, after fasting all night, then you are likely to eat more later to compensate.)

  5. Anne
    Anne June 1, 2007 at 11:50 am | | Reply

    This is perhaps my all-time favorite cereal (aka cookies in a breakfast bowl): Cracklin Oat Bran (http://www2.kelloggs.com/Product/ProductDetail.aspx?product=559)

    The “Bran” is to make it sound more healthy I think.

  6. Sarah
    Sarah June 1, 2007 at 11:56 am | | Reply

    Yep..pre-Celiac, cereal (Lucky Charms) was the choice du jour to bring up a massive hypo!

    Cereal *can* be healthy (puffed wheat and oatmeal for those without Celiac) for diabetics, and even the “bad” processed stuff can be OK in moderation. They key for some is to give your meal-time insulin about 20-30 minutes before you eat to minimize the spike. I also sometimes give a *small* bolus just prior to eating, and follow up when I begin eating.

    For me, having Type 1 my whole life, I pretty much never got a “free for all period” where I could eat anything worry free. I was never allowed anything sweet as a child, until I began to do my own injections and adjust my dose for what I ate. Now, I don’t cut anything out of my diet (if it’s Celiac friendly), I just work it in in moderation. I figure that even if I never eat anything high GI or high carb, I’m probably *still* going to die from something diabetes related at a young age. Not being negative, just realistic. I have had diabetes my whole life, stats are not in my favor!

    So for me, a healthy balance of some treats in moderation seems OK and won’t really change much overall. I gave up on perfection *a long* time ago! It’s impossible. After a lifetime of diabetes, the goal is now *as best as I can* :)

    To top it all off, all Celiac friendly cereals are NOT diabetic friendly. Gluten free products tend to have MORE carbs than foods with gluten. Rice is also a big ingredient staple, which causes big problems with my BG.

    Do note that Amy is 100% correct, and that is why I include cereal as a “treat”. Corn Flakes has a GI of 87 (I think), which is very high. If you look at the labels, Special K should not be labelled as a “diet” food. It has pretty much the same amount of carbs and calories as regular cereal. For most of us Type 1′s, 25 grams of carbs is not that much (less than a sandwich). But if you are a Type 2 looking to lose weight and stay off meds, this can be a big problem. Especially when you think you are making a good choice by eating it.

    Just recently, Kellogg’s was under fire because it’s new “Low Sugar” cereals had *exactly* the same amount of total carbs, they just used a different source other than sugar. Marketing ploy, or do they really not understand nutrition?

    I the lesson learned here is that WE need to think about what we put in our mouths, and be suspicious of advertising.

    P.S. Amy, if you get the chance, ask Kellogg’s why they *have* to use Barley malt in their Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes, thus making them *not* gluten free. Why can’t they use an alternative? If anyone can get something done, it’s you! :)

  7. Simon
    Simon June 1, 2007 at 2:16 pm | | Reply

    But Amy, Kellog’s are such a small company and they don’t make much profit so they have to do everything they can to earn an honest dollar. And there’s no way they would even think of trying to confuse anyone on the obvious benefits of their wonderful products, that would be unethical. I’m quite sure that they have the best interests of diabetics everywhere at heart. Their breakfast foods are full of wonderful carbohydrates that give everyone the energy they need to really start the day well.

    I think I have cramp in my tongue. May I remove it from my cheek now please?

  8. Michael Park
    Michael Park June 1, 2007 at 2:56 pm | | Reply

    As much as I love analyzing studies for their scientific merit, there are aspects outside of what can be measured. Corporate studies generally only sponsor observational studies. Why do we have to be so mean to the observational studies. I would venture to say that eating cereal for breakfast regularly is a lifestyle thing more than a simple choice of food. Trusting that they have a somewhat representative sample, they’ve gathered enough evidence that eating breakfast cereal is better than something… why do we care so much about what that something is?!?
    I don’t eat cereal, and I know that just eating it wouldn’t make a difference, but if I did it regularly in the morning, then that would force me to be more regulated and that might inspire other improvements.
    Anyway, longwinded moral of the story is that it’s just as bad to nit-pick a study as it is to blindly follow it.

  9. AmyT
    AmyT June 1, 2007 at 3:47 pm | | Reply

    Um, Michael, I heartily disagree with you here.

  10. Nawww
    Nawww June 2, 2007 at 1:53 am | | Reply

    Umm Amy, grow up. There are a lot bigger fish out there to fry without getting all bent out of shape over a made-up study from Kellogg’s. Try directing some of that anger toward the something more meaningful.

  11. AmyT
    AmyT June 2, 2007 at 9:14 am | | Reply

    Mr. Nawww, to me this represents the whole cosmos of Manufactured Marketing BS parading as academic study results. Bugs the crap out of me.

    btw, I choose what I care to get bent out of shape about :)

  12. maureen
    maureen June 4, 2007 at 4:03 am | | Reply

    We eat lots of oatmeal and hot mixed grain cereal. It seriously keeps my son steady thru the AM. He especially likes it with pb and a little chocolate syrup mixed in. PB cup oatmeal! Only cold cereals he can eat without spiking are mini wheats, cheerios ans wheaties type..

  13. Diane
    Diane June 6, 2007 at 1:13 am | | Reply

    Not all cereals are created equally. There are some that I think are very good for you — low carb, high protein, high fiber, and low sugar. It’s possible to have a healthy breakfast with cereal. Add up to a half cup of berries, with some soy milk, and in under 200 calories you’ve gotten a great balance. My favorite cereal only has 3g of sugar in 30g of cereal (I usually have 20g with my breakfast), 12g of protein, 13g of carbs, and 6g fiber.

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