South African fast food meals for kids among the most unhealthy in the world

KFC South Africa’s kids chicken burger has one of the highest salt contents in the world, packing 2.91 grams of salt in a single meal – over half the daily recommended salt intake for an adult.

This according to a study of 387 popular kid’s meal combinations carried out by World Action on Salt and Health (WASH).

The study found that children are being served worryingly high amounts of salt by popular fast food chains – with 82% (134 of 163) of meals containing more than 1g of salt.

“That’s more than a child aged 4-6 years old should be eating in one sitting, with some meals containing as much salt as 10 packets of ready salted crisps,” the group said.

Salt consumption in foods has increased in recent times, and scientist have become aware of many health risks associated with high salt intake.

Read: South African kids are some of the fattest in the world

According to Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London, the more salt ingested when young, the more likely children will grow up to have serious health issues later in life.

“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,” he said.

KFC SA's Kids burger meal
KFC SA’s Kids burger meal

Top 20 most salt-loaded kids meals

# Meal Country Salt per meal (grams)
1 KFC Popcorn Nuggets Kids Meal Costa Rica 5.34
2 Burger King Cheeseburger Colombia 4.82
3 McDonald’s McCrispy Chicken Costa Rica 4.81
4 KFC Popcorn Nuggets Kids Meal United States 4.28
5 KFC Chicken Little Kids Meal United States 4.23
6 KFC Junior Chicken Canada 3.65
7 KFC Popcorn Chicken Germany 3.30
8 KFC Chicken Fillet with dip Canada 2.98
9 Burger King Chicken Tenders Ecuador 2.95
10 KFC Chicken Burger South Africa 2.91
11 KFC Extra Crispy Tenders Kids Meal United states 2.80
12 Burger King Chicken Nuggets Finland 2.75
13 KFC Drumsticks Kids Meal United States 2.73
14 Burger King Whopper Junior with cheese Canada 2.60
15 KFC Popcorn Chicken Canada 2.60
16 Burger King Hamburger Finland 2.54
17 Burger King Home Style Chicken Strips United States 2.43
18 McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets Turkey 2.40
19 Burger King Hamburger Italy 2.34
20 McDonald’s Cheeseburger meal Poland 2.34

The Table below outlines South Africa’s saltiest kids meals.

# Meal Country Salt per meal (grams)
1 KFC Chicken Burger South Africa 2.91
2 McDonald’s Happy Meal burgers South Africa 2.33
3 KFC Chicken Fillets South Africa 1.99
4 KFC Popcorn Chicken South Africa 1.97
5 McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets South Africa 1.67
6 McDonald’s Chicken Burger South Africa 1.48
7 McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Wrap South Africa 1.48

The study also found that there was massive variation in salt content of the same meals sold in different countries – where in some cases there was 5 times more salt content in the same meal.

As an example, WASH noted that, over a course of a year, a child in Costa Rica would eat 18 teaspoons (106.56g) more salt than a child eating the same meal in the UK.

“The fact that these fast food chains are able to produce less salty children’s meals in some countries means they can do the same in ALL countries, and should immediately,” the group said.

“All children, regardless of where they are from, should be able to enjoy the occasional meal out, as a treat, without putting their health at risk.”

Salty South Africa

Salt is used as a preservative as well as a flavourant, and The World Health Organisation recommends that adults eat less than 5g of salt (a teaspoon) a day.

According to the Heart Foundation in South Africa, experts estimate that salt intake by some South Africans could be as high as 40g of salt a day.

In 2013 the Minister of Health signed legislation to make salt reduction in the food industry mandatory, helping to achieve the Government’s target to reduce salt intake in South Africa by 2020.

South African legislation is coming into effect in 2016 which will regulate the amount of salt allowed in certain foods.

Read: The most fattening fast-food meals in SA

According to a study from the World Heart Federation’s World Congress of Cardiology, South Africa’s salt targets could reduce deaths from heart disease and strokes by 11%, the Heart Foundation said.

The study estimated that the South African government will save approximately R536 million a year in health care subsidies, and will also save households approximately R42 million per year in health care costs.

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South African fast food meals for kids among the most unhealthy in the world