This Unbalanced Breakfast: Kellogg’s Agrees to Drop Insane Health Claims

Going by the standards of the breakfast cereal industry, it might be perfectly acceptable to say Froot Loops has helped reduce cancer mortality worldwide.

After all, Froot Loops is food, more or less, and people have been eating food in the last 50 years, and cancer mortality has gone down in that time…see where I’m going with this?

So far we haven’t seen anything quite that outlandish from General Mills, Kellogg’s and the rest. But they’ve gotten close, and the Federal Trade Commission has finally started to act against the worst such claims.

Last week, Kellogg’s agreed to a settlement with the FTC that should put robust restrictions on what health benefits the food giant can claim about its products.

The settlement comes after some serial cereal misbehavior by the company. Kellogg’s first got in trouble with the FTC when the company claimed Frosted Mini-Wheats were “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20 percent.” Talk about coo-coo!

The FTC opened an investigation into this specious assertion, and as a result Kellogg’s agreed last July to stop making claims about the “cognitive health, process or function provided by any cereal or any morning food or snack food” unless scientifically substantiated.

But like a drug addict that swears they’re going sober, even as Kellogg’s settled that investigation, it started advertising Rice Krispies as boosting children’s disease immunity, prompting a new FTC investigation.

Last Thursday Kellogg’s agreed it would cease all “claims about any health benefit of any food unless the claims are backed by scientific evidence and not misleading,” according to the New York Times (emphasis mine)

The odd thing about this crack-down on crackling (and snapping and popping), is that while health claims regarding sugar cereals are the most egregious (and ridiculous), many many food products make similar health claims with a similar lack of credible scientific backing. Wander the aisle of any health food store — where Frosted Mini-Wheats would be verboten — and you’ll see the same language on a wide range of products.

Since at least the invention of vitamin-packed Wonder Bread, Americans have been obsessed with the idea that we can stuff our faces while receiving ancillary benefits. And the companies that provide us those opportunities have geared their marketing to meet that obsession, whether it is evil corporate behemoths like Kellogg’s or the most crunchy, earthy organic food provider. Changing that co-dependent relationship is going to take more than just an FTC investigation.

By the way, if you’re looking for some more laughable claims, check out the Consumerist’s “Great Moments in Outlandish Breakfast Cereal Health Claims.”

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.