According to a new study by CASH (Consensus Action on Salt & Health) children’s meals served in “family friendly” eateries still contain worryingly high levels of salt – with over a quarter of meals (28%) containing 2g or more of salt per meal.

For a one to three year old, that’s their maximum recommended intake for a whole day and more salt than the equivalent of four packets of crisps.

In comparison, for a child aged four to six years, three quarters of the meals (74%) contain a third or more of their current maximum daily recommended intake of salt (3g – ½ teaspoon).

The survey, which was launched for National Salt Awareness Week 2015 (16 – 22nd March) and is the first to analyse the salt content of 218 children’s meals from 23 different eating establishments, revealed the top salty offenders include:

Burger King Kid’s Veggie Bean Burger with Small Fries: 4.6g salt per serving (155% of 4-6 year olds maximum recommended intake);

Hungry Horse Pic ‘n’ Mix Large Ham (2 slices) with Mashed Potato & Baked Beans: 4.2g salt per serving (141% of 4-6 year olds maximum recommended intake) N.B. recently increased from 3.2g salt per serving;

Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill Bangers & Mash with Gravy: 4.0g salt per serving (135% of 4-6 year olds maximum recommended intake);

Beefeater Mr Noisy’s Bangers and Mash with Peas & Gravy: 3.9g salt per serving (130% of 4-6 year olds maximum recommended intake);

Bella Italia Pizza Dog from the Piccolo Menu & Cheesy Garlic Bread: 3.7g salt per serving (124% of 4-6 year olds maximum recommended intake).

The survey said that as it is estimated that 40% of parents eat out with their children at least once a fortnight; if a three year old child was to dine out on some of the high dishes highlighted above, instead of lower salt options, they would be consuming 10.5 teaspoons of extra salt per year.

Only five of the 23 catering establishments included in the survey (Jamie’s Italian, Subway, Bella Italia, EAT and JD Wetherspoon) have pledged to reduce salt in their meals by signing up to the salt targets set by the Department of Health, highlighting the distinct lack of commitment to children’s health from the hospitality industry.

Sonia Pombo, a nutritionist at CASH. Said: “We are all eating too much salt and it’s a scandal that very few restaurants are taking salt reduction seriously - especially when the health of our children is at risk. Our survey has shown us that many restaurants have done little to reduce the salt content in their dishes, especially those targeting kids. The targets set by the Department of Health are a perfect opportunity for restaurants to show their commitment to the health of their customers. More needs to be done and action taken now.”

Latest figures by the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) show children aged 4-18 years are currently consuming more salt than the recommendations set by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) back in 2003. CASH argue that the recommendations for children are far too high, and that evidence shows children would benefit, throughout their lifetime, from much lower salt intakes.

Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of CASH, said: “Evidence suggests dietary habits in childhood can influence eating patterns later in life. Salt should therefore not be given to children as this could lead to a ‘salt addiction’ - a preference for salt throughout their lifetime. This will consequently raise their blood pressure which tracks into adulthood, leading to increased risk of developing strokes and heart attacks. Yet the recommendations suggest it is safe for a child of four to eat half a teaspoon (3g) of salt a day! The evidence should be reviewed by the Department of Health immediately and a new, lower recommendation set for children.”