Fast food kids’ meals in Australia can contain an entire day’s recommended salt intake according to new research which highlights the hidden toll fast food can have on young children’s health.
The George Institute for Global Health, VicHealth and the Heart Foundation report analysed salt content in kids’ meals from four major fast food outlets: Hungry Jack’s, KFC, McDonald’s and Subway.
The report (part of a global push to reduce the salt content in children’s food during World Salt Awareness Week) found a huge variation in salt of children’s meals across the four chains.
A six pack of chicken nuggets from KFC and Hungry Jack’s contained twice as much salt as six pack of chicken nuggets from McDonald’s; a McDonald’s Cheeseburger Happy Meal with fries contained almost two thirds of a day’s worth of salt, and a KFC Kids Meal Snack Popcorn contained almost half a days’ worth of salt.
Subway Kids’ Packs were the least salty meal options, providing mini subs and purees rather than burgers with chips; all of their meals were found to be in the top five lowest salt kids’ meal options and contained one gram of salt or less per meal.
Meals with fries were among the saltiest options with McDonald’s the only chain that provided apple slices, yoghurt and cherry tomatoes as an option, instead of fries.
Heart Foundation dietitian Sian Armstrong said while none of the popular meals are healthy options, it was concerning to see some kids’ meals contain more than a day’s worth of salt.
“An alarming 80 per cent of Aussie kids are eating too much salt with most of it coming from processed food and fast food takeaways.
“Most parents know that fast food isn’t a healthy option for their kids, however they may not realise that a single kids’ meal could blow out an entire day’s salt intake.”
Only Subway met the UK standard of less than 1.8 grams of salt per meal, with 30 per cent of the meals analysed in the report in excess.
The George Institute’s Public Health Nutritionist and the report’s lead author Clare Farrand said it was clear more regulation on fast food outlets was needed.
“It is unacceptable that some children’s meals in Australia are significantly saltier than similar meals purchased in the UK.
“The fact that some companies produce the same foods with a lot less salt in the UK demonstrates that they can, and should for all countries.”
VicHealth dietitian Jenny Reimers said when it comes to kids’ meals it was time for fast food outlets to make the default choice the healthier option.
“Kids aren’t born craving salty food – we develop this taste preference based on exposure so it’s really important parents limit the amount of salty food their kids eat.
“While it’s encouraging that some fast food outlets are including fresh fruit and vegies as options in their kids’ meals this should be the default and it should be offered at all restaurants.”