‘Astonishingly high’ salt levels in children’s meals, survey finds

‘Astonishingly high’ salt levels in children’s meals, survey finds
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Children’s out of home (OOH) meals contain “astonishingly high” amounts of salt, according to a new survey from expert group Action on Salt.

The nationwide product survey finds “dismal progress” made by the sector in the years following Action on Salt’s similar survey from 2015.

The group is now calling for high salt warning labels on children’s menu dishes with more than 1.8g of salt per serve – the 2017 salt target for OOH children’s meals set by Public Health England – and follow New York City’s example which alerts consumers to high salt meals to help families and parents find healthier options.

Examining the sector

Of the 351 meals surveyed, of which 12 were sent for laboratory analysis, 41% were high in salt, with more than 1.8g of salt per portion.

If colour coded labels used in supermarkets were used in the OOH sector, these meals would have a red label for their high salt content.

The worst offender for salt content was TGI Friday’s Chicken burger with crispy fries and baked beans with 5.3g/portion – equivalent to more than 11 bags of ready salted crisps.

2015 vs 2019

29% of the 218 meals surveyed in 2015 had 2g of salt or more per portion – the maximum recommended intake for 1-3-year-olds – compared to 37% of the 351 meals surveyed in 2019.

According to Action on Salt, this highlights the complete lack of commitment of the sector to reduce salt in their menus, and a lack of care for consumer health.

Of the dishes that appear in both the 2015 and 2019 surveys, 39% have achieved a reduction in salt content but 20% have seen no change in salt content, and 40% have actually increased in salt.

Variation in salt levels

When it comes to the variation in salt levels in meals of a similar type, the findings reveal a big difference. For example, the saltiest burger meal had six times more salt than the least salty burger meal.

The majority of children’s meals in the OOH sector include side dishes but a salty side dish can add an extra 1g of salt to the meal compared to a low salt side dish.

For example, Wetherspoon’s chips had 1.2g of salt per portion compared to Brewers Fayre Chips with no salt – that’s not even including any sauces a child may add to their food.

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chair of Action on Salt, said: “The Secretary of State for Health has promised long awaited new voluntary salt reduction plans in his green paper by Easter 201912, and they can’t come soon enough.

“Reducing salt is a shared responsibility between the food industry, individuals and the government and is the most cost-effective measure to reduce the number of people dying or suffering from entirely unnecessary strokes and heart disease.

“We’ve already seen the success of the UK’s previous work on salt reduction and we encourage the Secretary to mandate his plans, formalising them and helping to ensure progress is sustained, with huge cost savings to the NHS.”