News Children's Food Campaign

Salt Awareness Week shines spotlight on out-of-home salt in children's meals

Restaurants are being urged to act for children's health, as new research by Action on Sugar reveals some children's menus contains more than a day's maximum intake of salt contained in just one meal. Children's Food Campaign responds.

A child eating a burger and fries at a restaurant. Credit: PV Productions: Shutterstock

A child eating a burger and fries at a restaurant. Credit: PV Productions: Shutterstock

Nearly 50% of children’s meals sold in the Out of Home (OOH) sector provide at least half of a child’s daily limit for salt according to a new survey by Action on Salt published to mark Salt Awareness Week (13-19 May 2024).

  • Some dishes contained more than a 6-8 year old child’s maximum recommended intake of salt in just one meal!
  • One in five businesses do not disclose the salt content of their meals online 
  • Worryingly, only six businesses are fully compliant with the government’s voluntary salt targets for children’s meals, set to be achieved by end of 2024

Action on Salt (the expert research group based at Queen Mary University of London) is shining a much-needed spotlight on salt after a worrying 37% of children’s main meals sold in the OOH sector are found to exceed the maximum salt target (set by government for food businesses) to be achieved by the end of 2024. 

The recommended maximum daily salt intake for a 6-8 year old is just 3g. But Action on Salt found some children's meals exceeding that by more than a third in just one sitting. For example:

  • Bella Italia’s larger vegan margherita pizza contained 4.4g salt
  • Gourmet Burger Kitchen’s junior cheeseburger with skinny fries contained 4.2g salt

Responding to the findings, Children's Food Campaign Manager Barbara Crowther said: 

"We all want our children to be able to access healthy food and grow up to be healthy adults, but this is really hard when up to 85% of the salt we eat is already in our food when we buy it. This new evidence from Action on Salt shows not just how much salt is lurking in children's meals in cafes and restaurants, but also the lack of clear labelling that could guide families in choosing where and what to order for their children. 

It's no surprise that 8 in 10 parents say it is getting harder, not easier, to ensure their children are eating healthily, and three quarters of parents want companies to be required by government to reduce the amounts of salt and sugar in products they buy.

This is why we are proud to support Salt Awareness Week 2024 to shine a spotlight on salt, and why we’re working alongside Action on Salt on our Recipe for Change campaign calling for industry levies to reduce salt and sugar in our food."

Whilst more than three in four OOH businesses provided additional nutrition information on their website, eight businesses did not provide any information on salt (7), and only two labelled salt on their menus at point of purchase (i.e. Hungry Horse and Wetherspoon). With only calorie labelling required on menus by law, this lack of transparency makes it more challenging for parents to make informed choices for their children. 

Are children’s meals getting better? 
Following Action on Salt’s previous survey of children’s meals in 2019 (8), the average salt content has since decreased by 12% over five years, from 1.73g to 1.55g. The greatest reductions were reported in Burger King, ASK Italian and Harvester, with children’s main meals now ~50% lower in salt. Disappointingly, these reductions were not seen across all businesses. Children’s main meals in Leon, Slug & Lettuce, Zizzi, and Nando’s all reportedly have more than 20% salt on average, than five years ago. 

With diets high in salt being a major risk factor for raised blood pressure in both children and adults, this new research undertaken by Action on Salt underpins the call for government and businesses to prioritise children’s health by:  

  • Introducing clearer labelling on children’s menus, with information on salt as well as fats and sugars at point of purchase
  • Setting mandatory salt reduction targets for all food manufacturing businesses, including the OOH sector, to improve public health

Zoe Davies, Nutritionist at Action on Salt says:  

“If the Out of Home sector were as transparent as retailers, who are legally obliged to declare nutrition information on pack, surely these companies wouldn't think twice about reducing the amount of salt in their food rather than having to declare that their meals contain more salt than a child’s entire day’s worth. Parents need to be supported in fuelling their children with nutritious food, including that of meals eaten out of home.”  

 Sonia Pombo, Registered Nutritionist and Campaign Lead at Action on Salt adds: 

“Whilst it's great to see some businesses making improvements in their children’s menus, it's concerning that these efforts are not widespread, nor consistent across the sector. Generally speaking, the Out of Home sector is the ‘Wild West’ of the food industry and we simply cannot rely on all businesses to do what’s expected of them voluntarily. Implementing mandatory regulations is the only way forward if we are to level the playing field and create a more sustainable food environment for future generations.” 

See also:

Read the new Recipe for Change blog for Salt Awareness Week 

Find out more about Salt Awareness Week 2024

Read the full survey from Action on Salt

Real Bread Campaign's Salt Awareness Week ideas for bakers

Published Tuesday 14 May 2024

Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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