Kids ready meals twice the price but not half the salt

Monday, 23rd March 2015

A SINGLE ‘healthy’ kid’s meal can contain half of a child’s daily salt allowance, an investigation has found.

Testing by Staffordshire County Council’s Scientific Services on a variety of both adult and children’s ready meals has also shown problems with labelling, such as undeclared fat content and wrong information about daily limits

In one meal, a fish pie, the salt content that was actually twice that stated on the label.

Too much salt can contribute to a number of health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease, and even cancer.

Staffordshire Trading Standards tested the meals as part of national Salt Awareness Week. In many instances, they found that meals marketed as low salt for kids still contained half of their daily salt allowance, and only 0.2g less per 100g than the adult alternative.

Another issue was the price, with some ‘low salt’ children’s options costing nearly 4 times more per 100g than ordinary ready meals. One meal cost 95p for 400g, while the children’s low salt alternative—at just 200g—cost £2.50.

County Councillor Mark Sutton, cabinet member for Social and Health Care said:  “People know about the dangers of too much salt in their diet and will want to be confident that they’re buying a low salt option, particularly when buying for their children.  Some of these meals, although marketed as ‘low salt’ still contain nearly half of a child’s recommended daily salt intake.”

Government guidelines state a child aged 1-3yrs shouldn’t have any more than 1g of salt per day.  For children aged 4-6yrs, that rises to 2g.

Mark continued:  “Price is also very important for parents. Some of these children’s meals can cost up to 4 times their adult equivalents, meaning cash-strapped parents often have no option but to buy the cheaper, higher salt alternatives.  We would always recommend home cooking but when time is short, ready meals can be a convenient alternative.  We feel that parents should be given the facts about ready meals so they can make informed decisions, and that meals marketed at children should be cheaper to make them more accessible to parents.”

Dr Alison Teale, a Consultant in Public Health at Staffordshire County Council said: “Excessive salt can contribute to a variety of health conditions like heart and kidney disease, osteoporosis and even stomach cancer. This is why it’s really important that young children have limited access to salty food and parents find it easier to make informed choices about their children’s eating habits.

“Liking salty foods isn’t natural, it is an acquired taste so the earlier we can educate children about salt and prevent them from developing that taste for it, the more likely it is that they will adopt heathy eating patterns in later life. We need to create the right conditions to make this happen, which means clearer labelling and more cost-effective low salt alternatives.”

Staffordshire Trading Standards will be taking their findings back to the supermarkets concerned, to give them an opportunity to rectify issues with labelling.