Children’s meals still far too salty
Salt Awareness Week 2019 highlighted the troubling amount of salt hidden in children’s restaurant meals
This March, a new survey revealed ‘astonishingly high’ amounts of salt in children’s meals served in the casual dining sector. Some meals contained almost the maximum recommended amount of salt for a whole day – for an adult!
The survey was carried out by lobby group Action on Salt for their annual Salt Awareness Week, the campaign that puts salt in the spotlight. The results show the lack of progress made by the out of home sector in recent years in lowering the salt they add to food. Action on Salt are now calling for ‘high salt’ warning labels on children’s menus to help families make healthy choices, plus ambitious salt reduction plans from the Secretary of State for Health by Easter 2019.
40% of children’s meals would get a red traffic light for salt
The survey included all 351 available children’s meals from 26 chain restaurants and fast food outlets in the UK. 41% had more than 1.8g salt per serving, the maximum recommended amount for a children’s meal set by Public Health England in 2017 – this would earn them a red traffic light label if they were served in supermarkets.
The saltiest dish was TGI Friday’s Chicken burger with crispy fries and baked beans, with 5.3g of salt per portion according to an independent analysis of the meal. That’s almost the adult’s daily recommended maximum of 6g, although TGI have disputed the amount. Wetherspoon’s Fish, Chips and Baked Beans was not far behind with 4.9g.
Action on Salt commented: It’s imperative that families know what is in their child’s food and until clearer nutrition labelling is introduced to the OOH sector, companies should take responsibility and reveal the dishes that are high in salt.
The food industry makes poor progress in salt reduction
Shockingly, some meals have even become saltier since 2015, demonstrating a lack of commitment from the food industry in lowering our salt intakes. Action on Salt produced a similar survey four years ago and 40% of the meals that appeared in both are now higher in salt, while 39 are lower.
There was also huge variation in salt content, showing foods don’t need to be so salty. A GBK Junior Chicken Grilled Burger with skinny fries has 4.1g of salt while a Leon Mini Chicken Burger with Fries has just 0.7g per portion.
On the flip side, this means it’s possible to find low salt meals for children. Slug and lettuce Fish and Chips for example contain just 0.3g of salt.
Action on Salt are now calling for commitment from the out of home sector to reduce salt in children’s meals.
It’s not just salt that’s the problem, many meals are high in calories and fat too. Hungry Horse Large Double Cheesy Burger with Fries & Baked Beans has 1054 kcal per portion, more than half the recommended daily calorie intake for an adult. And ASK Italian Margherita Pizza with Pepperoni and Extra Cheese has 19.9g saturated fat per portion, an adult woman’s maximum recommended daily intake.
Mhairi Brown, Nutritionist at Action on Salt explains: “This survey highlights the shocking levels of salt still present in many children’s meals, even though it is well known that dietary habits formed in childhood influences what you eat for the rest of your life. Protecting children’s health should be a priority for all food and drink companies – the out of home sector must act now and take salt off the menu for children.”
Katharine Jenner, Nutritionist and Campaign Director of Action on Salt and CEO of Blood Pressure UK, says: “As a parent, it is so hard to try and find food and drink products that are both nutritionally balanced AND appeal to your kids. Children aged 4 to 6 should have half as much salt as an adult – just 3g – a day maximum yet they are eating much more than this. These food companies have known for years that they need to reduce salt, yet they are neglecting to do their civic duty and are putting our children’s health at risk.”
Children’s meals around the world
It’s not just the UK who have too much salt in restaurant food. World Action on Salt and Health looked at salt levels in children’s meals available at Subway, McDonalds, KFC and Burger King and Subway in 13 countries. 39% had salt content over 1.8g – a similar amount to the UK figures.
The amount of salt varied between countries. For example, a McDonald’s Cheeseburger Happy Meal served in Spain has 3.6g of salt per portion compared to just 1.08g in South Africa.