Shocking levels of salt and saturated fat found in takeaway meals popular amongst school children

17th May 2010

  • Many of the surveyed takeaway items from kebab shops and burger bars were found to contain much higher levels of salt and saturated fat compared to national fast food chains such as McDonalds and Burger King
  • A kebab and chips could contain as much as 7.4g of salt, more than the daily maximum of 6g

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KEBAB HOUSES AND BURGER BARS FEEDING OUR SCHOOL CHILDREN UNHEALTHY MEALS

New research found takeaway meals sold near schools could contain over one and a half times more salt and three times more saturated fat than an adult’s maximum recommendations for a day.  The research, carried out by London Environmental Health Food Teams on behalf of Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) highlights the food danger for teenagers hidden just outside the school gates.


Environmental Health Food Teams in London took a snapshot of popular menu items bought by secondary school children from takeaway shops near approximately 45 schools in 16 London Boroughs.  Despite some London boroughs having stay on site policies at lunchtime, fast food meals from local takeaway shops are still popular as after school snacks or as an alternative to school lunches.  Meals chosen by secondary school children such as burgers, kebabs, pies, fried chicken and other fast food were analysed for their salt, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and calorie content by Eurofins, a Public Analyst. 

The salt, calories and saturated fat content of the products throughout London were compared to and found to exceed the levels permitted in the average school lunch, as well as alternatives such as packed lunches and meals from national fast food chains.  In fact, three in every four meals (54 out of 73) surveyed contained more salt than is permitted under the nutrient-based standards for secondary school lunches, and more than half (44 out of 73) contained more saturated fat.

Trans fats raise the type of cholesterol that increases the risk of heart disease.  There is no requirement for it in a school child’s diet, however one meal of a Chicken Fillet Burger and Chips from Sam’s in Brent was found to contain a massive 8.0g trans fats per portion.

Kebab meals on average contributed almost 100% of an adult’s daily maximum recommendation of salt of 6g [Ref. 2].  Shockingly, a donor kebab from Tip Top Fish and Chips in Ealing contained 7.4 g salt, more than an adult’s entire daily maximum of 6g, and 4 times the secondary school nutrient-based standard for salt (1.785g) [Ref 1].   For saturated fat the kebab was even worse, containing 48.70g saturated fat per portion, over twice as much as an adult’s daily maximum of 20g [Ref 2] and six times more than the secondary school nutrient based standard for saturated fat (7.9g) [Ref 1].  

Particularly worrying was the finding that many of the takeaway items were worse than products from leading fast food chains such as McDonalds, Subway and Burger King.  The findings are even more shocking when compared to school meals provided by Newham School Catering Services’ menu.

For example; a ‘Chicken Crispy Bacon Panini’ from Café Giordano in Kingston was found to contain 6.10g of salt per portion, more than double the salt found in the similar sounding Subway Chicken and Bacon Ranch (2.9g salt per portion) and FIVE and a HALF times more salt than the similar Newham school meal ‘Cajun Chicken Wrap’ at 1.12g salt per portion [Ref 4].

Another high example is the ‘Chicken Poppers and Chips’ from Chicken Cottage in Wandsworth, which contained 22.10g of saturated fat per portion; the equivalent saturated fat of five and half McDonalds McChicken Nuggets & Large Fries meals (4g sat fat per 6pc meal), and TWENTY TWO times more saturated fat than a ‘Chicken Shop BBQ style with Chips’ meal from Newham Catering Services’ menu, at 1.0g sat fat per portion [Ref 4]. 
Traffic light labelling is a useful tool for displaying nutritional information, but is not used in takeaway outlets such as burger bars and kebab houses.

If traffic light labelling was used on these products, over one third (26 out of 73) of the items surveyed would be labelled red for salt, fat AND saturated fat [Ref 3], which would immediately tell teenagers how unhealthy these foods are.  Only three out of the 73 products surveyed, a Chicken Steak Burger from Western Chicken in Ealing, Jerk Chicken with Rice from Creole Cuisine in Enfield’s town market and a Chicken Burger with Lettuce from Pizza Corner in Sutton, would not get a red label at all.

“With everything we know about the dangers of eating too much salt and saturated fat, keeping children’s salt and saturated fat consumption below the recommended maximum limits is vital” says Professor Graham MacGregor, Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, and Chairman of CASH.  “Research shows that children who eat higher salt diets have higher blood pressure, and are therefore much more likely to have heart attacks and strokes, than children who eat less salt.  A high-salt diet is also linked with stomach cancer, osteoporosis and obesity.”

“Such great progress has been made on what pupils are eating when they are in school, now it seems the focus needs to be turned to what school children are eating outside of the school gates” says Katharine Jenner, CASH Campaign Manager. “With no clear labelling at these takeaways it is very hard for teenagers to make a healthy choice.  These takeaway venues have a huge responsibility to reduce the amount of salt and fat they add to foods that are eaten by school children.” 

Helen Clark, Area Manager for Food Team, from the London Borough of Wandsworth added: “This London-wide nutritional survey carried out by Environmental Health teams surprised us, not only because of the huge variation in fat and salt content between products, but because of how much worse many of the sampled menu items were compared to the national fast food chains.

“It is possible to reduce the amount of salt, saturated and trans fat in these fried takeaway foods by changing the recipes and cooking methods and reducing the portion sizes.  Environmental Heath Officers across London are developing a London wide Healthy Food award scheme that will identify businesses including takeaways that have improved the nutrition of their food.  Without nutritional labelling of restaurant food as proposed by the Food Standards Agency it is very difficult for children to choose a healthier option.”
The School Food Trust has consistently supported the use of stay on site policies at lunchtime, which are working well for many schools and have the backing of the majority of parents.

The Trust’s Chair, Rob Rees, said: “I think parents will be shocked to realise that their teenagers could be getting more than a day's dose of salt before they even get home from school. Of course teenagers will want to experiment and hang out with their friends. But times have changed – schools are working really hard to give teenagers a lunchtime experience that can rival the high street whilst still being healthy. It’s vital that this isn't undermined by nearby junk food outlets - that's why we support stay on site policies and steps to limit access to takeaway food around schools.”

CASH nutritionist Hannah Brinsden, said: “Due to the school meal nutritional regulations in place, the healthiest option at lunchtime is to have a school meal. Packed lunches, when made well, can be nutritious and tasty too. Visit www.actiononsalt.org.uk for some healthy lunchbox ideas such as pasta salads and wraps”

Mubeen Bhutta, policy manager at British Heart Foundation, said:  “Takeaway meals like these contain disturbing amounts of saturated fat and youngsters need to have the full picture about what they are eating.  The problem is takeaways and restaurants aren't telling us what’s in the food we're buying.  Putting information about calories, fat and salt on the menu or at the till would mean we’d all know more about what we’re thinking of eating, and encourage people to make healthier choices.”