Sugary Cereals at Early Childhood Education Centers

Principal Investigator
University of Illinois at Chicago

Overview

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) meal pattern standards were updated in 2016 to align with the latest federal dietary and nutrition guidelines. Effective October 1, 2017, cereals may contain no more than 6g of sugar per dry ounce. This limit on sugary cereals is an attempt to reduce added sugars for children at CACFP-participating early childhood education (ECE) programs. Rebecca M. Schermbeck, Julien Leider, and Jamie F. Chriqui representing the Research Hub at University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Health Research and Policy and the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis recently published a research brief describing ECE centers’ provision of sugary cereal before the new standard became effective.

Findings

1,343 centers located in 47 states and D.C. completed the research team’s survey, which was conducted from August 22 through September 30, 2017 (just before the new standard went into effect). More than two-thirds of centers (69.9%) reported meeting the sugar-in-cereal requirement. Of the centers that did not meet the requirement:

  • 53.5 percent served sugary cereals less than once per week,
  • 40.7 percent served them once per week, and
  • 5.8 percent served them more than once per week.

Independently owned or operated centers were less likely to meet the sugar-in-cereal standard than centers that are corporate-owned or Head Start–affiliated or that have a food program sponsor.

Implications for Policy and Practice

This study is the first to report on the provision of sugary cereals to children aged 2 to 5 years at CACFP-participating ECE centers before implementation of the updated CACFP requirement. That nearly one-third of ECE centers failed to meet the sugar-in-cereal requirement was not surprising based on previous research. However, it does underscore the need for better training and technical assistance for CACFP-participating ECE centers, particularly independent centers. Ready-to-eat cereal is among the most frequently reported food items on the menus of some centers, and if these cereals exceed recommended sugar levels, these centers are introducing unnecessary and unhealthful levels of added sugars. Future research should assess whether CACFP-participating ECE centers’ compliance with the updated sugar-in-cereal standards improves.

Published
in
Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice, and Policy