Children’s meals in pubs and fast food chains in the UK are getting saltier, a health group has said, as it calls for the introduction of mandatory warning labels on meals containing more than 1.8g per serving.
Action on Salt analysed 351 meals from 26 outlets including popular high street restaurants, pubs and fast food chains. Of the dishes that appear in the survey and a similar exercise in 2015, 20% showed no change in salt content and 40% had increased salt levels.
The group is calling for warning labels on children’s menus – as introduced by New York City in 2015 – to help parents pick healthier options.
Of the meals examined, 41% (145) were high in salt, meaning they contained more than 1.8g per serving. If traffic light labelling was being used in restaurants, these dishes would have been coded red.
The meal with the highest salt content was TGI Fridays’ chicken burger with crispy fries and baked beans, which contained 5.3g per serving, almost as much as an adult’s recommended daily 6g limit of salt and equivalent to more than 11 bags of ready salted crisps. A children’s fish, chips and baked beans meal from the Wetherspoons pub chain had 4.9g of salt per serving.
Action on Salt’s analysis in 2015 found 29% of the 218 meals tested contained 2g of salt or more per serving – the maximum recommended daily intake for one- to three-year-olds. In contrast, 37% of the 351 meals surveyed in 2019 exceeded that threshold.
A spokesperson for TGI Fridays said it disagreed with the findings of the Action on Salt survey “as independent nutritional analysis has shown our kids’ chicken burger meal to contain 1.5g of salt, not 5.3g as cited in the report.
“This is all the more disappointing as we have long supported the government’s salt-reduction programme since 2012 with a focus on children’s meals. We will continue with our work on salt reduction across all our menus.”
A Wetherspoon spokesman said: “Wetherspoon notes the findings of the report. Our pubs offer a range of nutritionally balanced and lower salt meals. We have several children’s meals that fall within the 1.8g salt target. We have also been working with our suppliers to reformulate and reduce salt in recipes across the children’s and adult menus.
“In terms of the meals with higher salt content, we will review these. We would also point out that parents can make their choice of meals on behalf of their children.”
Graham MacGregor, a 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 2019 and they cannot 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 strokes and heart disease.”
Action on Salt said UK consumers were still eating too much salt, with an average intake of 8.1g per day. Guidelines for children were introduced in 2003 and range from less than 1g a day for babies aged up to six months to 6g for those aged 11 and older.