Fast food in popular chain restaurants can be more unhealthy on holiday, parents have been warned, after a survey found that children’s meals can have almost double the amount of salt abroad as they do in Britain.
Of the 387 popular meal combinations surveyed, 82 percent contained more than one gram of salt – recommended by the World Health Organisation. The organisation recommends a maximum of five grams a day for adults.
In Britain, government health drives have seen huge reductions in the amount of salt in processed food, but other countries have yet to catch up.
It means that a Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal in Britain contains just 0.7g of salt, but in South Africa the same food contains 1.67g of salt. Likewise a Burger King cheeseburger contained 15 per cent more salt in the US than in the UK.
In Costa Rica a KFC PopCorn Nuggets kids meal from contained as much salt as 10 packets of ready salted crisps (5.34g).
Clare Farrand, International Programme Lead for World Action on Salt and Health said: “Our survey has shown that children are being served worryingly high amounts of salt by popular fast food chains with huge variations around the world.
“For families travelling abroad this summer, beware that you might be eating far more salt than you’re used to (in the UK) – don’t be afraid to ask for less salt, and where possible choose the healthier option – for example, choosing apple fries over regular fries could help you reduce the amount of salt you’re eating, and saves on buying dessert.”
Health experts warn that too much salt in childhood habituates children to the taste of salt, and puts up blood pressure, which leads to strokes and heart failure.
“The more salt you eat as a child, the more likely you are to have serious health issues in later life,” said Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of WASH.
“This can include high blood pressure, increased risk of stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis and kidney disease. That is why it is vitally important that children do not get used to the taste of salt.”
Christelle Crickmore from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, who collected data from KFC and McDonald’s in SA, also raised concerns about the amount of salt in the country’s fast foods.
“With South Africans having one of the highest rates of high blood pressure worldwide – and with one in 10 children already suffering from the disease – we simply cannot afford to allow such high levels of salt in popular children’s meals,” she said.
Watch & Learn
WASH said that other countries should learn from the UK’s successful salt reduction programme, which has set clear targets for the food industry to achieve, to gradually reduce salt added to processed food.
Salt intake has fallen in the UK by 15 per cent between 2001 and 2011, which has prevented thousands of strokes and heart attacks.
McDonalds said it was continuing to reduce salt in its meals both in the UK and abroad. The average Happy Meal in Britain contains 50 per cent less salt than it did in 2000, while in the US salt has come down across the menu by 15 per cent over the same period.
A Burger King spokesman said: ‘Burger King Corp has successfully reduced the sodium content in many of its products around the world.’
KFC said it has also been committed to reformulating a number of its products and ingredients to reduce the salt content in its food worldwide.
But some of the fast food franchises have distanced themselves from the claims that they served too much salt, saying they met the country’s food quality standards.