Popular brands of cereal contain so much sugar that parents might as well be serving kids dessert for breakfast, a new U.S. report suggests.

The Environmental Working Group reviewed 84 brands that are sold in the U.S. Of those, 44 contained more sugar than three Chips Ahoy cookies, the consumer group said. 

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One in four children's cereals met the U.S. government panel's voluntary proposed guidelines, a consumer group says. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

The top three worst offenders by per cent sugar by weight were:

  • Kellogg's Honey Smacks at nearly 56 per cent.
  • Post Golden Crisp at nearly 52 per cent.
  • Kellogg's Fruit Loops Marshmallow 48.3 per cent.

The least sugary cereals among popular brands were:

  • Kellogg's Mini Wheats.
  • General Mills Cheerios Original.
  • General Mills Kix Original.

"Cereal companies have spent fortunes on convincing parents that a kid's breakfast means cereal, and that sugary cereals are fun, benign, and all kids will eat," NYU nutrition professor Marion Nestle said in a release.

"Kids should not be eating sugar for breakfast. They should be eating real food."

Kellogg said a recommended serving of Honey Smacks is ¾ of a cup, and that it is not marketed to children.

"Kellogg has reduced the sugar across our U.S. kids' cereal by approximately 16 per cent," Lisa Sutherland, vice president of nutrition at Kellogg North America, told Reuters.

The consumer group said it found that one in four children's cereals meets the U.S. government panel's voluntary proposed guidelines, which recommend no more than 26 per cent added sugar by weight.

In July, the largest U.S. food companies, including Kellogg and General Mills, said they will cut back on marketing unhealthy foods to children, proposing their own set of advertising standards after rejecting similar guidelines proposed by the U.S.  government.

With files from The Associated Press