If you thought sugar-coated pockets of shredded wheat could boost your brain power, we're here to break it to you gently: No, they can't. But a check in the mail may soon ease your disappointment.
Breakfast foods purveyor Kellogg has agreed to a $4 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit alleging it ran a deceptive marketing campaign for the sugary cereal.
The ads, which ran in 2008 and 2009, claimed that eating Frosted Mini-Wheats could improve kids' attentiveness and memory. A voice-over in one ad told viewers: "A clinical study showed kids who had a filling breakfast of Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal improved their attentiveness by nearly 20 percent."
The problem, as journalist Michael Moss recounts in his book Salt Sugar Fat, was that the clinical study the ads referenced — a study paid for by Kellogg, by the way — didn't actually support that claim. He writes:
"The truly remarkable aspect of the campaign is that the company study, even if taken at face value, did not come close to supporting the claim in its advertising. Half of the children who ate bowls of Frosted Minis showed no improvement at all on the tests they were given to measure their ability to remember, think, and reason, as compared with their ability before eating the cereal. Only one in seven kids got a boost of 18 percent or more."
But according to Moss, many parents bought into those assertions anyway. "A resounding 51 percent of the adults surveyed were not just certain that the claim about attentiveness was true," he writes, "they believed that it was true only for Frosted Mini-Wheats."
The current suit was brought by two such sets of parents who were angry about being misled, says class-action lawyer Tim Blood, who represented the plaintiffs. "This sort of got in the craw," he tells NPR's Robert Siegel on All Things Considered, "and they were angry about it and wanted to do something about it."
Under the terms of the deal, customers will be eligible for a refund of up to $15 for boxes of Frosted Mini-Wheats purchased between Jan. 28, 2008, and Oct. 1, 2009. (And, no, you don't need an old supermarket receipt to make a claim.)
In a statement on the website it set up to handle claims, the company says, "Kellogg stands by its advertising and denies it did anything wrong." But the company has agreed to stop making such claims for a while. Instead, it will be limited to statements such as, "Clinical studies have shown that kids who eat a filling breakfast like Frosted Mini-Wheats have an 11 percent better attentiveness in school than kids who skip breakfast."
Kellogg told NPR: "We long ago adjusted our communication to incorporate the Federal Trade Commission's guidance."