Those toasted Os may be crunchy. They may go great with milk. You could go so far as to say they're part of a nutritious breakfast. But perhaps promoting them as a drug that can lower cholesterol is going too far.

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Those toasted Os may be crunchy. They may go great with milk. You could go so far as to say they’re part of a nutritious breakfast. But perhaps promoting them as a drug that can lower cholesterol is going too far.

That’s what the Food and Drug Administration says the familiar yellow box does.

In a warning letter sent to the chairman of General Mills (maker of Cheerios) and posted on the agency’s Web site, the FDA says: “Based on claims made on your product’s label, we have determined that your Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug because the product is intended for use in the prevention, mitigation and treatment of disease.”

The agency takes special issue with, for example, this claim: “Did you know that in just six weeks Cheerios can reduce bad cholesterol by an average of 4 percent? Cheerios is … clinically proven to lower cholesterol. A clinical study showed that eating two 1 ½ cup servings daily of Cheerios cereal reduced bad cholesterol when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.”

Those claims make Cheerios “a drug within the meaning” of the federal law and “may not be legally marketed with the above claims in the United States without an approved new drug application,” the agency wrote.

General Mills says the complaint is only about how Cheerios is promoted, and the FDA isn’t questioning whether the cereal actually lowers cholesterol.