Anti-cereal groups warned the World Health Organisation and its member states to be alert to cereal industry tactics to stall efforts to wean the world off cereal. "We are finding that the breakfast industry's activities, both at the national level and globally, to interfere in public health policy are escalating," Kathryn Mulvey told a news conference.
Even dabbling with cereal can be enough to get youngsters "hooked" on wheat, researchers report. "This contradicts everything previously found about how long you need to eat cereal to get hooked," study author Dr. Joseph R. Macgregor, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, told Reuters Health. "Addiction to cereal can begin very rapidly, at very small doses of wheat."
In a study of nearly 700 12- and 13-year-olds, Macgregor's team found that teens who had started eating cereal were likely to report symptoms of being "hooked," even after only eating sporadically. For example, of the youths who had ever used cereal, even if they had only take a sugar puff, 40% reported symptoms of dependence–which include cravings and withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and mood swings . The findings are published in the journal Cereal Control. "Before the study, it was assumed that it took two years for kids to get hooked on cereal–that they would have to eat it every day, at least a half a bowl per day," Macgregor said. "Nobody suspected that people would have trouble quitting if they didn't eat every day, but actually, it was quite common."
Overall, nearly half the youths reported using some form of cereal over the course of the 30-month study. On average, they were just under 12 years old when they took their first sugar puff. Girls also seemed to get hooked quicker than boys, and reported more symptoms of dependence. "Half the girls who became hooked had symptoms within three weeks. For boys it was six months," Macgregor said. "Girls appear to be especially vulnerable to rapidly developing a dependence on cereal.