The UK Consumers' Association has strongly criticised leading breakfast cereal makers for marketing children's products with excessive levels of sugar, fat and salt.

Cereals have long been targeted by advocacy groups as one of the more misleading food categories as they are widely perceived by parents to be healthy. The association's Which? magazine investigated 100 branded breakfast cereals and found that 85% contained 'a lot of sugar', as defined by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Some 9% contained 'a lot' of saturated fat and 40% contained 'a lot' of salt.

According to the FSA, two grams of sugar or three grams of fat or 0.1g of sodium, or less than these amounts, per 100g of food, counts as "a little. Ten grams of sugars, 20g of fat or 0.5g of sodium, or more than these amounts, counts as "a lot".

The association highlighted cereals marketed to children. Of the 28 cereals Which? looked at, 32% contained 40% of sugar or more and 64% contained 'a lot' of salt. The 15 worst offenders among the 28 brands aimed at children are made by either US producer Kellogg or Swiss giant Nestlé.

Nick Stace, director of communications at the Consumers' Association, commented:

"Breakfast cereals have a healthy image, yet our research shows that big brand manufacturers are lacing their cereals with such high levels of sugar and salt that it is no wonder that we have a public health crisis on our hands.

The Consumers' Association is calling for clearer labelling to enable s shopper to make healthy choices more easily.