Canadian children are consuming worryingly high amounts of salt in the kids’ meals at fast food chains, a new study finds. And yet, kids elsewhere in the world often take in much less salt eating the very same meal items.
For example, the fries at KFC stores in Canada contain 1.92 grams of salt per serving; in the U.K., they contain only 0.113 grams. So if a Canadian child ate those fries just twice a month for a year, she would eat a stunning seven teaspoons of salt more than the British child by the end of the year.
The salty meal survey was carried out by World Action on Salt and Health (WASH) and was the first of its kind, looking at 163 popular kid’s meal combinations from popular fast food chains around the world.
The survey found that over half the meals sold in Canada contained more than one gram of salt – which is more than an eight-year-old should eat in one sitting. (Children between the ages of four and eight should get no more than 1.9 grams of salt per day, Health Canada recommends).
One of the saltiest kids’ meals sold in Canada is the Junior Meal at KFC, containing a Junior Chicken burger and fries. That combo contains 3.65 grams of salt and is the sixth saltiest meal on the international list.
Still, that’s less than the KFC kids meal in Costa Rica, which is the saltiest in the world. There, the popcorn nuggets and fries meal contains a whopping 5.3 grams of salt – about as much salt as eight servings of potato chips. That same meal sold in the U.K., though, contains 0.9 grams of salt.
Dr. Norman Campbell, who is the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s chair of Hypertension Prevention and Control in Canada, says it doesn’t make sense that Canadian kids are being served all that salt.
“These companies already have formulations that have low salt and I think it’s just outrageous they’re not bringing these to Canadians,” he told CTV’s Canada AM Wednesday
Campbell says the food industry is “training“ kids in Canada to eat foods that are high in sugar, saturated and trans fats.
“This is leading to hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity, and that’s driving premature death and disability and health care costs.”
Campbell added that Canadian fast food chains should take a page from the U.K.’s successful salt reduction program.
The U.K. sets clear sodium targets and accountability mechanisms for the food industry, to gradually reduce salt in processed food. Food makers have been allowed to take a slow approach so that consumers don’t notice the difference in taste as the salt content drops.
According to WASH, salt intake has fallen in the U.K. by 15 per cent between 2001-2011. As well, thousands of strokes and heart attacks have been prevented because high-sodium diets are linked to stroke and heart problems.
Campbell said Canada did have an excellent sodium reduction strategy, but it got watered down.
“At the last minute, in 2011, the government basically said it was going to be entirely voluntary, without any monitoring or oversight. So that made it a highly ineffective program.”
The solution for parents, he says, is to simply avoid fast food when possible, and focus more on fresh fruits and vegetables as well as lean sources of protein.