Warning over ‘dangerously high’ salt levels on children’s menus

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Children’s meals in family-friendly restaurants still contain “dangerously high” levels of salt, making young diners accustomed to unhealthy tastes, a charity warns today.

Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) said more than a quarter of children’s meals surveyed contained 2g or more of salt - the maximum recommendation for a whole day for a one to three-year-old and more than the amount in four packets of crisps.

Three-quarters of the meals contained a third or more of the maximum daily recommended intake of salt - 3g or half a teaspoon - for a child aged four to six.

The charity warned of a “new generation of salt addicts” after surveying the salt content of 218 children’s meals from 23 restaurants.

It found the Burger King Kid’s Veggie Bean Burger with small fries contained 4.6g of salt per serving, or 155 per cent of a four to six-year-old’s maximum recommended intake - noting that this had recently increased from 2.8g.

The Hungry Horse Pic ‘n’ Mix Large Ham (two slices) with mashed potato and baked beans contained 4.2g of salt per serving, or 141 per cent of a four to six-year-old’s recommended intake, which had also recently increased from 3.2g.

The Loch Fyne Seafood and Grill bangers and mash with gravy contained 4g, or 135 per cent of the recommended limit, while the Beefeater Mr Noisy’s bangers and mash with peas and gravy had 3.9g.

The Bella Italia Pizza Dog and cheesy garlic bread contained 3.7g of salt per serving, or 124 per cent of a child’s maximum recommended intake.

A report by the Soil Association estimated that 40 per cent of parents eat out with their children at least once a fortnight.

Just five of the 23 establishments surveyed - Jamie’s Italian, Subway, Bella Italia, Eat and JD Wetherspoon - have pledged to reduce salt in their meals by signing up to targets set by the Department of Health, Cash said.

Latest figures from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey suggest children aged four to 18 are consuming more salt than was recommended by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition in 2003.

Cash nutritionist Sonia Pombo said: “We are all eating too much salt and it’s a scandal that very few restaurants are taking salt reduction seriously - especially when the health of our children is at risk.

“Our survey has shown us that many restaurants have done little to reduce the salt content in their dishes, especially those targeting kids.

“The targets set by the Department of Health are a perfect opportunity for restaurants to show their commitment to the health of their customers.

“More needs to be done and action taken now.”

Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Cash chairman, said: “Evidence suggests dietary habits in childhood can influence eating patterns later in life.

“Salt should therefore not be given to children as this could lead to a salt addiction - a preference for salt throughout their lifetime. This will consequently raise their blood pressure which tracks into adulthood, leading to increased risk of developing strokes and heart attacks.

“Yet the recommendations suggest it is safe for a child of four to eat half a teaspoon of salt a day.

“The evidence should be reviewed by the Department of Health immediately and a new, lower recommendation set for children.”