Pay attention, parents: Kellogg Co. has claimed in national advertising that Frosted Mini-Wheats is "clinically shown to improve kids' attentiveness by nearly 20 percent."
That would be great if it were true.
Unfortunately, the Federal Trade Commission said this week that those claims were "false and violated federal law."
Tony the Tiger, how could you?
The FTC found a few cracks in Kellogg's clinical study:
• Only about half the children who ate Frosted Mini-Wheats for breakfast showed any improvement in attentiveness.
• Just one in nine kids showed improvement in attentiveness of 20 percent or more.
• Kids who ate Frosted Mini-Wheats averaged an improvement in attentiveness of just under 11 percent, but the study compared them with kids who ate nothing at all for breakfast.
Compared to a kid who's on the verge of fainting, anybody seems attentive.
"We tell consumers that they should deal with trusted national brands," Jon Leibowitz, the FTC chairman, said in a statement. "So it's especially important that America's leading companies are more 'attentive' to the truthfulness of their ads and don't exaggerate the results of tests or research."
In response to the FTC's charge, Susanne Norwitz of Kellogg said in prepared statement: "Kellogg Co. has a long history of responsible advertising. We stand behind the validity of our clinical study, yet have adjusted our communication to incorporate FTC's guidance."
A proposed settlement bars Kellogg from "deceptive or misleading cognitive health claims for Kellogg's breakfast foods and snack foods, and bars the company from misrepresenting any tests or studies."
A soon-to-be-released report on breakfast cereals by the Center for Science in the Public Interest does note that Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats are 100 percent whole grain and have at least 3 grams of fiber for every 100 calories.
That earned Frosted Mini-Wheats one of the center's "best bite" honors, which means they are good for your health. They just won't make your child a genius. In fact, the center notes Kellogg still needs to phase out of some varieties of Mini-Wheats, the ones that use dyes Blues 1 and 2 and Red 40, which promote hyperactivity and behavioral problems.
It's hard for parents to know what to feed kids when the company's ads are feeding us nonsense.
Bruce Silverglade, legal director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, advises carefully reviewing food labels.
"Some claims on breakfast cereal are approved by the (U.S.) Food and Drug Administration," Silverglade said. "The rest are what amounts to … snake oil. It's nearly impossible for the consumer to know which is which."
Some claims are FDA approved, such as the heart benefits of General Mill's Cheerios.
But the food companies get tricky with wording. They'll make claims such as "made with whole grain" or "whole grain guarantee," though the cereal has little whole grain. Labels should say 100 percent whole grain.
So here's the Edge, courtesy of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Look for:
• Whole grain cereals. The center counts wheat, corn and oat as whole grain. Soy, flax and sesame seeds are healthy but not grain. Ignore claims such as "made with whole grain," "whole grain guarantee" or "multi-grain"
• Rich in fiber labels. It should contain at least three grams of fiber for every 100 calories. Fiber lowers risk of heart disease, diabetes and constipation, studies show. Full of "intact" fiber is best, as additives classified as fiber may not protect health.
• Low in saturated fat. It should contain no more than one gram of saturated fat.
• Free of aspartame. This artificial sweetener caused cancer in some animal studies.
Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn @sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332.