Hidden danger in half term "treats": A Pizza Hut meal can contain four times a child's daily salt limit

19 October 2007




Parents taking their children to a fast food restaurant over half term could unknowingly be giving them huge amounts of salt – in many cases well over their maximum daily recommended limit in one meal – according to new research published today.

Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) surveyed four of the UK’s favourite fast food restaurants [1] and found shockingly high levels of salt in some family, individual and children’s meal options.

A total of 346 individual food and drink items and 264 advertised meal combinations were surveyed from Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut [2].  

A family of four sharing a Pizza Hut ‘meal deal’ (Pizza Plus for 4) could eat a staggering 12.3g of salt each [3].  That’s over twice the recommended daily maximum limit for an adult (6g), and almost two and a half times the limit for a 7-10 year old (5g) in one meal.  If a 6 year old were sharing this meal they could be eating over four times their daily limit (3g).

A KFC Deluxe Boneless Box shared between four could contain 5.2g of salt per person [4].  This is almost a whole day’s salt limit for an adult and over the recommended maximum daily limit for a child. A family of four sharing a KFC Family Feast could eat 4.7g of salt each [5].

Surprisingly, the majority of advertised standard size individual ‘meal deals’ from Burger King and KFC and all those from McDonald’s had lower levels of salt compared to the lowest salt individual ‘meal deals’ from Pizza Hut. This was still true when the dessert included in the Pizza Hut ‘meal deal’ was omitted from the equations.

However, some individual meal deals still contained a lot of salt for a single meal. For example at KFC an individual ‘meal deal’ could contain as much as 6.3g salt [6] and at Pizza Hut 9.7g salt [7].  Alarmingly the lowest salt ‘meal deal’ for one person available at Pizza Hut contains 4.7g salt [8], nearly 80% of the recommended upper limit for salt intake in adults, compared to the lowest surveyed which provided only 0.8g salt (McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets Meal with salad) [9].  

The CASH research included 21 menu items and 48 meal combinations aimed specifically at children.  The salt content of the meal combinations varied from 4.3g of salt in a Pizza Hut children’s meal [10] (nearly 50% more than the 3g upper daily limit for a child of 4-6years) to 0.6g in a McDonald’s Happy Meal of chicken nuggets and a fruit bag [11].

“Whilst we acknowledge that there are low salt options available at some fast food outlets, the likelihood is that most children going to McDonald’s or Burger King will ask for a burger or chicken nuggets and fries.  If they are taken to KFC they will want chicken and fries, and at Pizza Hut will choose pizza,” said Carrie Bolt, CASH Researcher, who surveyed the various meals.  “We found that a children’s burger meal contains around 1.9g salt [12], equivalent to around two-thirds of the upper limit of salt intake for children aged 4-6 years (3g).  A typical chicken nugget meal contains around 1.5g [13] and a typical children’s Pizza Hut pizza meal contains 2.3g [14].

“We are concerned that Pizza Hut and KFC provide no information in the restaurant at point of sale to tell parents how much salt is in the food,” continued Carrie Bolt. “There is no way for people to make informed choices before they buy.  We are pleased that McDonald’s have labelling on their packaging and that Burger King provides leaflets giving the amount of sodium per portion. It is also true that all four outlets surveyed had information on their websites, but we would like to see all fast food outlets displaying nutritional information where people make their food choices. All the major supermarkets and most food manufacturers have made great progress in providing clear on-pack salt labelling in the last few years. We would now like to see the same effort being made by restaurants and fast food companies.”

“It is over four years since the maximum daily limits for salt were established for adults and children [15],” said Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of CASH and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine from the Medical School at St George’s Hospital, London, “and yet this survey shows that the salt levels in some of these meals are staggeringly high.  Pizza Hut’s own website states that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day and children less [16], so how can these companies justify selling food that contains more than the maximum daily limit for adults and children in a single meal?

“Salt acts as a long-term toxin that puts up blood pressure in both children and adults [17] and thereby causes strokes and heart attacks.  We know that reducing salt intakes to below the recommended 6g a day for adults and less for children reduces the risk of having a stroke by a quarter [18] and heart attacks by one fifth, so I would really urge people to choose lower salt options whenever they go out for a meal.”

“If you are taking your children out for a ‘treat’ this half term I would say it is better to go to McDonald’s or Burger King rather than Pizza Hut which serves food outrageously high in unnecessary salt,” Jo Butten, CASH Nutritionist advises. “Opt for meals without added cheese and bacon and remember that drinks such as milkshakes and desserts including cheesecake and muffins can contribute quite a lot to your salt intake [19]

“In the meantime, anyone who would like to know how much salt their favourite fast-food meal contains can check our website www.actiononsalt.org.uk.  We have also highlighted the lower salt choices in each of the outlets we surveyed.  Heart disease and stroke still kill and disable more people in this country every year than any other disease or condition.  Thousands of lives can be saved each year if we just choose lower salt foods.”

References 

1 McDonalds has the most outlets of the fast-food sector (1,235 outlets in the UK), followed by Burger King (700) and KFC (692) (BHA’s Trends and Stastics 2004 report). Pizza Hut and Domino’s are the main companies in the pizza sector.  Domino’s has not been surveyed because it is a take-away outlet and our survey focused on sit-down restaurants.

2 For the purposes of this survey, we have only researched the salt content.  Calories, fat and sugar contents have not been surveyed.  In some, but not all, cases a dessert is included in the ‘meal deal’.  If dessert is included, its salt content has been included in the total salt content of the meal.

3 This Pizza Plus for 4 combination (includes one Cheesy Bites Meat Feast, one Medium Pan Super Supreme, one Garlic Bread, one Potato Wedges, one Saucy Chicken Wings (Buffalo), four Madagasca Vanilla Cheesecake) contains 49.1g salt, or 12.3g per person assuming four people eating the same amount. N.B.: This meal combination contains the highest amount of salt of all the choices available as part of the ‘Pizza Plus for 4’.
Omitting the dessert, this Pizza Plus for 4 meal would contain 44.8g salt or 11.2g salt per person assuming four people eating the same amount of food.  Even if a child ate proportionally less than adults, for example, a sixth rather than a quarter of the meal, they would consume 8.2g salt.

4 This KFC Deluxe Boneless Box combination contains 8 mini Breast Fillet, 2 Regular Popcorn Chicken, 4 Regular Fries, Large BBQ Beans, Large Coleslaw, 1.5 Litre Regular Pepsi. Total salt content 20.8g.

5 This KFC Family Feast combination contains 12 Original Recipe Chicken Pieces, 4 Regular Fries, Large BBQ Beans, Large Coleslaw, 1.5 Litre Diet Pepsi has 18.8g salt.
A KFC Family Feast combination containing 8 Original Recipe Chicken Pieces, 4 Regular Fries, Large BBQ Beans, Large Coleslaw, 1.5 Litre Diet Pepsi has 13.8g salt.

6 KFC Variety Meal with 3 pieces, 2 hot wings, 2 crispy strips contains 6.3g salt. The information provided by KFC on their website for chicken pieces is an average of the salt content over all different pieces.

Pizza Hut Meat Feast Italian Pizza Plus for 1 (including Individual Italian Meat Feast Pizza, Potato Wedges and, Madagasca Vanilla Cheesecake) contains 9.7g salt. This is the saltiest meal combination for a ‘Pizza Plus for 1’.

8 Pizza Hut Seafood Lovers Pan Pizza Plus for 1 (including Individual Pan Seafood Lovers Pizza, Garlic Bread, Chocolate Fudge Cake) contains 4.7g salt. This is the lowest salt combination for the ‘Pizza Plus for 1’

9 6 Chicken McNuggets, Garden side salad and medium Coca-cola = 0.8g salt

10 Pizza Hut KIDS Wrap Factory (Chicken) plus soft drink contains 4.26g salt

11 McDonalds Happy Meal containing 4 Chicken McNuggets, Fruit Bag and a small coca-cola contains 0.6g salt.

12 The average salt for a Burger King Kid’s Burger Meal with fries and coca-cola (1.998g) and a McDonald’s Hamburger Happy Meal with fries and coca-cola (1.8g) is 1.9g salt.

13 The average salt content of a Burger King Kid’s Chicken Bites meal with fries and coca-cola (1.773g), KFC Kid’s Popcorn Chicken Meal with fries and a yogurt (1.5g) and McDonalds Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal with fries and coca-cola (1.1g) is 1.5g salt.

14 The average salt content of a Kid’s pizza meal at Pizza Hut is 2.26g. N.B. This refers to a cheese and tomato pizza. There is an option of adding a topping.

15 Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition report, published May 2003 http://www.sacn.gov.uk/pdfs/sacn_salt_final.pdf

16 http://www.pizzahut.co.uk/restaurant/assets/files/A_Balanced_Diet.pdf

17 He FJ, MacGregor GA.  Importance of salt in determining blood pressure in children: meta-analysis of controlled trials.  Hypertension 2006; 48: 861-869.

18 Cook NR, Cutler JA, Obarzanek E, Buring JE, Rexrode KM, Kumanyika SK, Appel LJ, Whelton PK. Long term effects of dietary sodium reduction on cardiovascular disease outcomes: observational follow-up of the trials of hypertension prevention (TOHP). BMJ April 2007; 334; 885.  This study showed that people who cut back on the amount of salt in their diet by up to 3g per day could reduce their chances of developing cardiovascular disease by up to 25%.

19 Pizza Hut Madagasca Vanilla Cheesecake contains 1.07g salt, McDonalds Low-Fat Blueberry Muffin contains 1.4g salt, McDonald’s Large Chocolate Milkshake contains 0.9g salt.