To examine associations between breakfast cereal consumption and the dietary habits, nutrient intakes and nutritional status of young people, considering both nutrient adequacy and safety issues (fortification).
Using archived data from 1688 children in the (British) National Diet and Nutrition Survey of Young People aged 4 to 18 years, nutrient intakes and status were compared across thirds of breakfast cereal consumption (T1 to T3), adjusted for age and energy intake. Cereals provided on average 2%, 6% and 12% of energy in T1, T2 and T3, respectively, for boys; 1%, 4% and 10%, respectively, for girls.
Intakes of iron, B vitamins and vitamin D were around 20-60% higher in T3 compared with T1, with significant linear relationships observed for iron, thiamin, riboflavin and folate (T1<T2<T3). After excluding low energy reporters and the unwell, 14% of girls had iron intakes below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake and this varied fivefold between T1 and T3 (27%, 12% and 5%; P=0.0001). High consumers of breakfast cereals (T3) had better folate, vitamin B12 and riboflavin status and lower total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. There was also an association with thiamin and vitamin B6 status in girls. However, iron status (haemoglobin, ferritin and transferrin saturation) was not significantly different between groups, possibly due to lower meat intakes in T3. Total iron intakes were within tolerable levels (maximum of 32 mg day(-1) in one girl taking supplements).
The nutritional benefits of breakfast cereals are demonstrated in status measurements as well as in nutrient intakes in this study. Concerns about excessive iron intakes from fortification appear unjustified.